Many times, you may have encountered a symbol that looks something like this – “—. “Have you ever wondered what this symbol is? Well, this dash is called the Em Dash. The Em Dash was invented by the writer to convey more expression into their text. Nowadays, dashes have evolved into three types – En Dashes, Em Dashes, and Hyphens.
Let us learn more about these dashes and how to use these dashes appropriately and effectively.
What is An Em Dash?
An Em Dash (—) is a substitute punctuation mark used instead of parenthesis, commas, or colons. Em dashes are present to put the focus on the text after/between them. They are useful for inserting clarifications and explanations. It allows us to read the sentence in one continuous flow and not divert our attention from the text. For example, consider these sentences:
- Using Em Dash – Four of my friends — Jake, Amy, Eric, and Leonard — decided to go to a movie.
- Using Parenthesis – Four of my friends (Jake, Amy, Eric, and Leonard) decided to go to a movie.
Em Dashes allow us to go through a piece of information without breaking our flow.
Em Dash gets its name from the letter ‘M’ because its width is equal to the em dash size. Hence, it is useful to distinguish between different sizes of dashes. You can type an em dash with a combination of commands. On Mac, use Shift+ Option+ Hyphen (-). On Windows, use Ctrl+ Alt+ Hyphen (-).
When to Use An Em Dash?
It would be best if you use the em dash in the right place. Otherwise, they lose their ability to convey the correct expression. To avoid this, read the following carefully:
1. Used to convey explanations or clarifications
An em dash showcases additional information that may help us understand the sentence’s context. It is handy for inserting comments in the middle of the sentence without diverting focus from the primary data. It would be best if you always use em dashes before and after the additional line. You can also insert a space between the dash and the sentence. It is purely optional.
- We bought an LG TV — an expensive one, mind you — for the family.
- Every student in the school — some teachers even — protested against the reduced school holidays.
2. Used to display interruption
An em dash is also more widely used to show interruption mid-sentence. This type of usage is more suited to informal tones. It shows how the writer was going on about a particular topic before he/she was interrupted by an external disturbance. After this, you can show how the speaker reacted to the subject’s change or stopped speaking after the interruption.
This example might help you understand:
- Where did I put my — never mind, found it. (The speaker changed his subject.)
- While traveling across Western China, I— (The speaker stopped speaking due to an interruption.)
3. Used to conclude a sentence
Many people use an em dash for summarising a sentence abruptly. Writers use it to convey a piece of information directly. This usage is informal as well. Many people use an em dash instead of a colon to amplify the effect of the ending.
Consider this as an example:
- We try our best to enjoy ourselves as much as possible until we meet our inevitable end— death.
- After extensive thought, the judge arrived at his final decision— guilty.
Em Dash versus En Dash versus Hyphen
- Em Dash: As already mentioned above, an em dash’s size is the width of the letter ‘M.’
- En Dash: Just like em dash, an en dash’s size is the width of the letter ‘N.’
- Hyphen: The hyphen is exactly half the size of an en dash.
- Em Dash: An em dash is useful to display how a person changes his subject mid-sentence or gets interrupted by an external disturbance.
- En Dash: An en dash is for showing a range of numbers. It is quite handy to indicate “from x to y” by inserting an en dash between the numbers.
- Hyphen: Hyphen is used to link together two related words together. The hyphen shows how two terms are commonly used together as a pair.
- Em Dash: The First World War started in— Mr. Jenkins, please stop talking.
- En Dash: I lived in Canada from 2015–2019.
- Hyphen: Since I travel with my dog, I prefer pet-friendly hotels.
Em Dash vs En Dash vs Hyphen | Infographic