The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash...please help!

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The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash...please help!

Postby Ulysses5284 » Sat Nov 16, 2019 5:52 pm

Hey everyone! I just had a quick question about those three beauties up in the subject. Up until recently, I wasn't aware that there was a difference between the three. Since figuring this out, I've been struggling with the best ways to use an em dash in my writing. I know it is used for things such as showing breaks in sentences or sometimes as a a change of emphasis. But is it something that is fine to use often, or is it more of a "literary spice" to be sprinkled sparingly in my work? For instance, I've used an em dash setup approximately 6 or so times in a 4200 work. Anyway, I know this can be a bit tricky to use for some...myself I thought bringing it up might do some good for others as well.

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Re: The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash...please help!

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sat Nov 16, 2019 9:05 pm

I think, so long as it suits the pacing of the sentence/isn't used overly much it's fine. Six times in a 4k work is probably just fine, although context is of course everything. I like my em-dashes and semicolons far more than I perhaps should, but I try not to overdo it. wotf019
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Re: The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash...please help!

Postby Henckel » Sun Nov 17, 2019 3:20 pm

I use em dash ALL THE TIME and have been criticized for it.
Technically, the em dash is used as an aesthetic replacement to the brackets ( and ). Its really helpful when you want to break mid-sentence for a brief elaboration on a word or phrase. The elaboration is usually details that doesn't otherwise fit into the paragraph, but not a complete sentence.

Personally, I'm a fan of sentense fragments, but they have to be used properly. The em dash is a good way to muse them while meeting grammatical rules.

Disclosure. It't really easy to mess this up. Oh, and you have to avoid over using them em dash.
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Re: The hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash...please help!

Postby Andy Dibble » Sun Nov 17, 2019 3:59 pm

There's one use of the em dash where grammar almost requires it: if you have a subordinate clause that contains commas

It was only to be expected that Troy should fall — and fall emphatically, its very location effaced and, for millennia, forgotten — because the Gods and heroes on the Greek side were among the most powerful in the Greek pantheon.

from: ... ting-comma

Although in fiction writing I think it's rare that that construction is ideal. Normally shorter sentences make for greater fluency.

In fiction, we use an em dash to indicate interrupted speech:
"You know, you really should--"
"I really should, what?"

The comparison here between em dash use, comma use, and paren use is instructive ... ith-dashes
(Go to "Em Dashes as Parentheses or Commas (Most Common)")

Two other things about em dash:
* It is incredibly versatile as far as punctuation goes. It can replace most other punctuation and your sentence will still be be more or less grammatical. this means if you use it, you generally make your prose less precise, which is why it's good to avoid
* it is more emphatic than a comma because it visually offsets a clause.
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