Submitted by Dyske  •  July 22, 2003

Hyphen, N-dash, M-dash

What is the difference between a hyphen, an N-dash and an M-dash? How do you properly use them?

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The hyphen is used to hyphenate compound words and between non-continuing numbers, e.g., phone numbers.

The en dash is used to "connect continuing, or inclusive, numbers — dates, time, or reference numbers." [Chicago Manual of Style, sec. 5.115]

The em dash is used "to denote a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure." [Chicago Manual of Style, sec. 5.106] When typing, it's common to use two hyphens for an em dash. In HTML, you can also use the entity: "&&035;151;".

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Sorry about the strange characters in the comment. This should post and read well.

The hyphen is used to hyphenate compound words and between non-continuing numbers, e.g., phone numbers.

The en dash is used to "connect continuing, or inclusive, numbers -- dates, time, or reference numbers." [Chicago Manual of Style, sec. 5.115]

The em dash is used "to denote a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure." [Chicago Manual of Style, sec. 5.106] When typing, it's common to use two hyphens for an em dash. In HTML, you can also use the entity: "—".

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In case you're wondering where the names come from, an en dash is the length of a standard length "n" character in most typesets and an em dash is the length of a standard length "m" in most typesets.

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I see from the attempts of others to use HTML mark-up, that it doesn't work here. So I'll use the convention of -- to indicate an en-dash and --- for an em-dash.

The hyphen is used to create compound words (usage in UK
and US differs somewhat) such as "a badly-designed car" or
"en-dash." Also used to indicate that a word has been broken at the end of a line and the remainder continued on the next line.

An en-dash is used to indicate a range, e.g., "pages 1--9". In the UK, particularly, it is used to link names which are not compounds. E.g, the Michelson--Morley experiment (as opposed to an experiment conducted by a single person with they hyphenated name Michelson-Morley) or Sino--Soviet pact.

An em-dash represents a break in the sentence structure---like this. Some publishing houses prefer to use an en-dash surrounded by a thin space in this situation.

Omitted from your question is the minus sign. Good mathematical typographers use a different symbol yet again for this: about the width of a hyphen but thicker.

In older works (a couple of hundred years ago, you would occasionally see breaks, which were twice the width of the em-dash.

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great explanation.
thanks

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OK, here's a great article on HTML markup for these marks and some others:

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/emen/

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Um, "anonymous" was me, below there.

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What about using a dash of some sort in a title instead of a colon. Which would it be? My PC wants to change the hyphen I have been using to an n-dash, but I want it to stay a hyphen (I think).

An M dash would be inappropriate. The idea is to convey that the specific subsection is a subordinate part of the section, but seems to need to include the section words becasue all sections in the document have the same series of subsections, and need to avoid confusion. An example:

Section title:
Airframe & Engine Analyzer Menu

Subsection titles:
Airframe & Engine Analyzer Menu - User Input Fields

Airframe & Engine Analyzer Menu - Frame Navigation

Airframe & Engine Analyzer Menu - Page Navigation

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Is there a way to create a true m or n dash on a PC. It is possible on a Mac, but there must be a way to do it on the PC also.

On the Mac, if I type option + shift along with the dash key I get an m dash. If I type option and the dash key I get an n dash.

Thanks for your help.

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To Brian, sometimes it's good to make a difference between a minus sign and a negative sign as well. I don't know about in print, but at least on calculators and in my own handwriting, a minus sign is wider and lower, while a negative sign is shorter and higher. It's a subtle difference that most people don't care about, I'm sure....

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An en dash connects. The m dash separates.

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What about spaces? I've long been confused about whether to whether to space around dashes -- m-dashes I suppose -- or put them right up against the words. MS Word automatically changes a dash surrounded by space to an n-dash, while a "--" connecting words becomes an m-dash.

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Yes, its frustrating to try and find the various hidden characters on a PC. I don't think Bill Gates thinks we need them. When using an em dash, there is no space between dash and both preceding and following text. (Was this mentioned here somewhere?) A useful publication for Mac users is "The Mac is Not a Typewriter" by Robin Williams (no not that Robin Williams).

J

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I don't know if anyone answered Andrew Newman about keystrokes on PCs.

An em dash is ASCI character 151, so Alt+0151 (on the numeric keypad) inserts it.
An en dash is character 150, so...

In Word on a PC, an en dash is CTRL + the numeric key pad minus sign, and an em dash is CTRL + Alt + numeric minus sign. This does not work in other programs.

Ian

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When do you use N Dash and M Dash between the sentenses.

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One of my clients says that when I send documents to her, my hyphens change to en-dashes. We are both on the Windows platform. Any ideas why this might happen?

Thanks!

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cant we do away with the m dash totally? use hyphen for word breaks, and an n dash for sentence breaks.no spaces for either. i feel that would avoid all the confusion. it communicates as well.

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Although it is often seen, and may be"standard" typographical practice, I think that indicating a break in a sentence by an m-dash and no spaces between the words and the dash is just horrible. Not only is it ugly, but it seems to me that it looks as though it is joining the words rather than separating them, which is the intention. I hardly think an n-dash without spaces would be better. Surely that would look even more like a join. I found this site because the editor of a recent web publication of mine <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imager... has changed the mere hyphen with spaces that I used in my submitted material to an m-dash with spaces. That is certainly better than having it without the spaces, but it is really big and obtrusive. It seems to me that best solution is clearly an n-dash with spaces.

In MS Word 2003, if you type two hyphens between words, with no spaces, they change to an m-dash (yuck); if you type one or two hyphens surrounded by spaces between word they change to an n-dash when you type the space after the second word.

http://www.imagery-imagination.com

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thanks Ian Red for getting those PC commands up

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Mon dieu! As a poet, the thought of getting rid of the m dash is horrifying. So, no. We can't do without the m dash. :)

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A valued English professor called the em dash "a strong comma," and, yes, we still need it. Writers and students learning to write need this punctuation tool to add variety to sentence structure choices. Short, choppy, repetitive sentences; sentence fragments or run-ons; and incorrectly used commas, colons, or semi-colons would result without it. My perspective is that of a high-school English teacher with 140 junior and senior composition students.

Two consecutive dashes, no spaces (--) = an emdash and should convert automatically to a continuous appearance upon completion of the next full word following its use.

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Interesting discussion to happen across. I too think the m dash is ugly and should be abolished. As a professional speechwriter maybe I look at text differently, but my preference for separating words is by far an n dash with spaces. Looks much cleaner -- and, as Nigel pointed out, is easy to do on MS Word.

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Okay, am having a fight with a publisher about 'M' dashes and long dashes. She keeps replacing m dashes with long dashes in the copy&mdash;it's awful (and driving me nuts).

Can't find the reference for correct long dash usage anywhere and I'm losing the war. Help!

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Try reading over this.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash

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hey Ian,

thanks for the m-dash and n-dash on pc...really helped me. i was so frustrated trying to find out on the keyboard!!!

good site too...i may be regular here soon...

cheers!

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So does anyone know the key commands for a pc when wanting to implement en dash and em dash in indesign?

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As a typesetter (and the Senior Creative Graphic Designer at my company) I disagree with the assertion that there should be no no space on either side of the em dash. The whole point of typesetting is readability, and it is definitely more readable with spaces on either side. It also makes the typesetters job more doable because all professional typesetting programs force the words on wither side of the em dash to stay together on the same line, if there are no spaces on either side. This makes for ugly looking rag on left justified text, and awkwardly tracked lines when using full justification. The only alternative is to manually put in soft returns, and that is just not possible on a 456 page book on a tight schedule.

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Hi there, quick question,
should "mid-October" have an n&ndash;dash? -&ndash;&mdash;

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powerslider,

Use hyphen.

M-dash with spaces before and after it means pause or separation: "The sun was rising --- a red, hot plate". M-dash without spaces means range: "Please make shure you complete excersize in Jan---Mar". There could be also numbers instead of months. It also depends on country, where you plan publishing your text. For example, russian typography took many things from french, including m-dash and quotation marks. Find older books that were published before era of personal computers, when uneducated people started to play typesetters without eye of the Editor ;-). I have never used n-dashes, only hyphens and m-dashes.

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I say abolish the m dash (it's ugly), then get rid of the hyphen cuz its close to the n dash....meet in the middle and consolidate them all into the n dash. One solution for all. Simpler is better.

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Ian--thanks so much for the PC keyboard commands. MSWord Help explains the auto-format with the hyphen or double-hyphen and spaces, but doesn't mention ctrl+minus!
And FWIW, I like the m-dash as distinct from the n-dash and hyphen as long as it's consistently used. Given how hard it is to find and use them, however, no wonder many documents are incorrect! And it appears there are different practices across countries, history and typesetters.

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Fascinating that this discussion has been going on for almost five years now.

Might I suggest that the reason so many people find m-dashes ugly has to do with the fonts they are using? I must admit, I find the m-dash in Times New Roman a bit obscene. Other fonts don't suffer as much from this, but since a huge amount of text is set in Times New Roman, naturally people become prejudiced against the m-dash. I suspect that this site is rendered in Georgia&mdash;which has a much more reasonable m-dash size. Only about 1.5&ndash;1.8 times that of the n-dash.

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As a small, and relatively anachronistic aside, in the days of metal type -- either composed by hand or via a machine compositor such as a a Linotype, "en" dashes (not "n-dashes") were referred to as "nut quads" and "em"s as "mutton quads."

I started in the business in the early 80's and in the space of 6 short years went from film type (with a bit of metal, mainly for educational value) to early digital and on to the Mac... and wonder at the lore and lingo lost along the way.

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For the best usage of an em-dash in the business of the printed word, I look to Henry James.

Simpler may be better, but the symbol dictates the usage, which can greatly change the meaning.

Aesthetics aside, breaks and continuations in thought are different processes and therefore should appear differently when written.

And, on an unrelated note, nobody can use a semicolon like James.

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Google took me here, luckily.

So, for you professional editors/writers, will it be useful if we support these kinds of dashes/hyphens separately when we develop our software?

* en dash - using the glyph in the font
* em dash - using the glyph in the font
* 'n'-width dash - stretching the length of hyphen to the width of 'n' of the font, as some fonts do not have en dash glyph in the font
* 'm'-width dash - stretching the length of hyphen to the width of 'm' of the font
* hyphen - just the standard '-' char, right next to '0' (if US Qwerty keyboard layout)
* figure dash - the width of a number or the proceeding number if not fixed width font
* negative sign - use the hyphen (which is shorter than the regular mathematical minus symbol) on the same height with other operators
* minus symbol - same width, center line aligned to the center of plus, multiplication, division operator signs, left-right spacing based on TeX rule


If yes, how would you rate the usefulness/priority?
This is mainly for our equation editor software but it looks most of the concepts/rules should be borrowed from the publishing side.

Thank you for all the info here.

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I work in the UK on mostly UK materials but also deal with publications that are distributed in the USA. The usage I've come across:

when separating two thoughts in one sentence
* 'm-dash' without spaces for US publications
* 'n-dash' with space before and after in UK materials

Hope his helps?!

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Rule about hyphens/dashes, which has become conflated in the American lexicon; a hyphen is not a dash.

a) Hyphen: used to connect compound noun made of two words, for example, "eye-opener."
b) En Dash: called so because it is the length of the letter "n," it is used to denote numerical ranges, for example, "1&mdash;10 years." It can also be used for compound adjectives, for example, "fur&mdash;lined coat" is a far more specific modifier than "fur lined coat." This is the most common misuse of hyphens/dashes.
c) Em Dash: called so because it is the length of the letter "m," it indicates a parenthetical thought&mdash;&mdash;like this one&mdash;&mdash;and note the lack of spaces between word and dash.

When using MS Word, select FILE, then SYMBOL and select your correct dash rather than lazily hitting the hyphen keep on your keyboard. Some newer keypads now come with a dash option.

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re: MathMagic Developer

All variations of the dash/hyphen should exist, in case one might need to use it to communicate an idea, be it through words or via equation.

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The wiki article Bill has mentioned above <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash> makes an interesting comment.
"...In practice, there is little consensus, and it is a matter of personal or house taste; the important thing is that usage should be consistent. ..."

The reason given is that major publishers and typographical guides favour varying conventions. For example --
"The Chicago Manual of Style" recommends using unspaced em-dashes to represent dashes in running text.
Publishing houses such as Penguin, Cambridge University Press, OUP, and Routledge prefer the spaced en-dash for a similar purpose.
Obviously, there would be many more variations to these preferences.

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Yes, most typesetters and typographers have their own personal taste when setting spaces before and after all types of dashes. Depending on the particular typeface, I usually end up horizontally scaling em dashes by varying amounts and I may reduce or enlarge the width of the character space before and after each. Again, all of these considerations come from the individual characteristics of your chosen typeface and what visual impact you're trying to communicate via a specific medium.

The size of the em dash I would set on the side of a bus ad might be considerably neater than the size of one set in 6pt on a business card.

Personally I think every form of punctuation should be celebrated. Without such a breadth of choice at our fingertips visual communication would be nothing more than a stream of nonsensical text messaging... wouldn't it?

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AP Stylebook (the Bible for publishers) says an em dash should be separated on both sides with spaces.

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m-dash with spaces (at least in latex) is definitely too big and ugly. For this purpose I use n-dash with spaces. I would agree to use m-dash if the dash were a bit shorter... let's shorten m-dash! anyway, I think n-dash does fine.

m-dash without spaces looks inconsistent with the rest of the text and a little weird.

Unfortunately the copyeditor insists on using long m-dash... will have to argue :|

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In Adobe Illustrator for an "en-dash" (shorter dash) hold down the

Alt and type in the numeric keypad 0150.

For an "em-dash" (long dash) hold down the Alt and type in the numeric keypad 0151.

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Gavin Anderson above, at Sept. 8. 2007, has nailed it. The sticky m dash (no spaces surrounding) makes a solid, unwieldy character string out of two words and can wreak havoc on either rag right or justified line lengths. A floating m dash is oddly discontinuous looking; the floating n, with a space on either side, is about right. It's all got to do with what announces itself clearly, first, and then pulls the eye forward.

I notice Gavin Anderson wears a tam o'shanter, in addition to his typographical sagacity. Is he married? or if so, does he have a brother?

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There are no spaces before and after an em dash.

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Wow a 6-year thread. That is incredible. I enjoyed all the various comments. What was of particular interest is that some of those that posted really seemed to care one way or another. Arguing with a publisher over an n-dash or m-dash. Not worth it in my opinion. Since it is obvious from the various posts that just about anything is valid, it really does not matter. The publishers "Bible" and the Chicago Manual of Style conlict.
Basically it all comes down to personal preference.
By the way, I use them all. Just depends on what, in MY opinion, looks good. And honestly, If someone does it differently thats fine with me.

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I don't think you can simply 'do away' with an m-dash because you think it is ugly! What's next in the beauty pageant of grammar? Should the semi-colon be nervous? who died and made the hyphen the fairest of them all?

Regardless of how the things look on the page, they are to effectively communicate ideas, thoughts and expressions. Don't gag yourself by getting rid of punctuation just because it is buck-toothed or balding.

For the record, I use m-dashes with space at either side otherwise it looks like you are linking rather than separating. I understand US usage may be different.

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I shake my head at the misguided calls to abolish the m dash. Correct grammar promotes clarity of thought and communication, and the m dash serves that goal admirably. Disapproval of its use doesn't make one sound efficient, but the opposite.

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I'm with Deb and Justinito on this one. The em-dash–and really, let us at least agree on a spelling for it–is useful, if sometimes overused, punctuation. It was particularly popular with nineteenth and early twentieth-century writers. Kipling loved it, as did Doyle, who often abused it:

“He writhed his hands together as he stood, and his features were in a perpetual jerk–now smiling, now scowling, but never for an instant in repose.”

Doyle was a rotten writer, much as I admire his occasional phrase, like “perpetual jerk.” A modern writer would use a colon in place of the em-dash, and cut a third of the words. Hence Hemingway.

Over-used, the em-dash can give the impression of a scattered mind, of distracted thinking. Journalists should avoid it–and avoid asides in general–but other writers retain full licence. But use it wisely–you are only interrupting yourself.

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But Douglas -- you are using an en-dash in your own post, not an em-dash.

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Mantha,

You are right! I was misinformed of what the proper keystrokes are. I appreciate the correction—thanks!

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I have googled a bit on hyphens and dashes after someone corrected my writing and my, there's quite a bit to it, it appears.

It is nice to have all this wealth in typesetting and punctuation, but the question remains: do readers know all this (I didn't), and if not, is the use of all possible dashes with or without space intuitive to the user? The usefulness of punctuation in getting a meaning across is only useful as long as that meaning is understood. As the target audience usually does not consist purely of writers and typesetters, maybe some consideration for the general public is in order.

In my ignorance I agree with the em-dash with spaces, otherwise it joins words together instead of separating them. The only sensible usage of an em-dash or long dash without space I could think of is a thought broken off in the middle of a word, like thi---

But then, ignorance is bliss I suppose. I wouldn't argue with a publisher though, when in Rome etc...

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When it comes to punctuation, there are two related but distinct sets of considerations, and they don't always jive. Typographically, one always has to consider the variety of things that have been unfolding in this thread for (!) five years; this has altogether to do with the way the information gives itself up to the reader visually. But psycholinguistically, punctuation is a (very rudimentary) replacement notation for paralanguage, or the many non-verbal, meaning-bearing variations in pitch, vocal pressure, enunciation speed, pauses and elision, among other "expressors," that cannot be transmitted visually since they are almost exclusively auditory in nature. (I say "almost" because paralanguage is decoded in tandem with facial expression, when the hearer can see the speaker's face. Even so, when the facial expression and the vocal tone do not agree, it is usually the vocal tone that is taken as "true".) Punctuation is only as good as it performs this function; I think anything that puts meaning over more clearly or more subtly is worth considering.

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Right you are, Nigel, and I do know that, though I can't swear it was just a typo.

The main point is that language processing, even in a strong social context of literacy, is first and foremost oral and auditory, and not written and visual, literacy having come very late in the development of the species. So typographical considerations, including punctuation (visually represented paralanguage), should ideally map as closely as possible onto the primary (auditory) form of language, but it's rarely so simple. Punctuation therefore has to negotiate a balance between visual readability, on the one hand, and adequate representation of the completely auditory non-verbal component on the other, so that it can be easily and accurately decoded from print form into mental sound imagery.

The takeaway is that en- and em-dashes, whether floating or squeezed, are only two markers among many in the attempt to represent sound forms as visual symbols so that print can give up its information quickly along a pathway that wasn't primarily made for it. It's ultimately arbitrary just how that is accomplished, but some forms seem to work better than others.

Either that, or it's all in what you get used to . . . no jive.

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example of compound words

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Don't recommend the use of &#151; in HTML. That code, along with all other numeric character references in the 128-159 range, is actually forbidden by the HTML specs. It's still commonly implemented in browsers as an em dash, but this is only done for compatibility. Early web browsers were lax in implementing the standards and didn't fully support Unicode. Instead of interpreting numeric character references according to Unicode (where 151 is a non-printing control character), they incorrectly interpreted them according to the default or selected local character encoding, which was behavior expected by people who primarily authored and viewed documents (HTML and otherwise) in those encodings. On English/Western European versions of Windows this encoding was the "Windows-1252" encoding, which has the em dash assigned to position/byte 151. Coupled with Unicode ignorance and the fact that support for the proper references (&mdash; or &#x2014; or &#8212;) was spotty, this led to widespread use of &#151; to signify an em dash. Nowadays, the proper reference should be used.

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I'd like to mention my own heretical practice of using space after an em-dash, but not before— like this. It's easy on the eyes, and it breaks after the dash in HTML documents.

While on the subject of HTML documents, the UTF-8 code for an em-dash is —

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Let me try that again. The UTF-8 code for an em-dash is —

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One more time: 8212, preceded by an ampersand and a pound sign, and followed by a semi-colon.

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This is a marvelous thread. My thanks to Mike Brown and many others. I am sending the URL to my writer friends.

I was trying to settle an argument with my copy-editor proving that "m" dashes should not be preceded or followed by a space. My copy editor has consistently put in the spaces on the website articles and I am not fond of the spaces, even though most of our stuff appears in readable Georgia. (Ten years ago a friend enjoined me to forswear Times New Roman.) I have just posted an article reconstructed from a lecture recording made some 40 years ago. Talk about "para-language." This article has hundreds of dashes. you can see it for yourself here:
http://voegelinview.com/university-and-the-orde...

I must also mention I now know why, when two years ago I moved to a website content management system called Joomla [That is Swahili for "I hate you and all culture."] and converted to UTF 8, my old HTML pages showed ugly black question marks wherever my dashes had been rendered by typing Alt + 0+ 151.

So I am grateful to all of you.

Best wishes

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Spaces should not be used on either side of an m dash. Period.

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Fritz Wagner -- I would love to read the article you mention, but it doesn't seem to be accessible through the link you have posted. Any other way to lay hands on it? Author's name, title perhaps, if it was published?

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Mantha —

My apologies. Some days I can't copy and paste a URL. Here is the correct one:
http://www.voegelinview.com/university-and-the-...

And just for the fun of it I am linking my "Style Page" to this thread.

Best wishes – — -

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Ah, great example. Mine get that thick at times -- there's just so much more forward drive in the dashes than there is in parentheses, which could have been used instead of most of them, but would be so stodgy.

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The best article I found so far explaining this:

http://www.punctuationmatters.com/the-hyphen-da...

Article was written for designers, but no jargon used there.

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Having read through this thread, I'm still not clear on why we need two different kinds of dashes. A spaced en-dash does all the work of a non-spaced em-dash. All we need is the hyphen for joining, the spaced en-dash for separating, and the non-spaced en-dash for the unique case of linked, non-compound names.

Unless someone can demonstrate a genuine nuance in meaning created by an em-dash that would differ from that implied by a space en-dash, dropping it for aesthetic reasons is entirely valid.

There's another good reason to drop the em-dash that anyone who has seen the London Underground adverts for the Amazon Kindle may have noticed. When files are converted or transferred, punctuation is often corrupted. The original use of unspaced em-dashes in William Boyd's 'Ordinary Thunderstorms' seems to have resulted in the e-book edition being plagued by accidental hyphenated compound words -- in other words, bad grammar that seriously interferes with the reading experience.

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Getting an En dash in a PC is by Ctrl+minus; and its Ctrl+Alt+minus for an Em dash.

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I must attribute "verbivore" to Richard Lederer, who, according to my research, coined the word in the early 1980's. Brilliant!

This has been a most informative and enjoyable (not to mention _eight_ year) thread! Since I could not coax an em-dash out of my keyboard using any of the advice mentioned, I retreated to the use of parentheses; however, my joy at the longevity of such a discussion remains undiminished.

I learned to omit the spaces on either side of an em-dash, although when I read the posts about left justification and wordsrunningtogether I began to rethink the "rule". I have to agree that not using spaces _does_ make it harder to read, at least for me. Perhaps my eyes are biased; I must remember that language is ultimately relative. English evolves daily, despite the best efforts of many who find comfort in the way they learned to write and speak their particular version. I admit to lingua-snobbery. Regardless, the point is to faithfully struggle to represent visually what a speaker (or thinker) is trying to convey. In that light, I vote for a large degree of flexibility in the use of whatever little marks -- or lack thereof -- will perform that difficult work, all carried out in the presence of deliberate consistency per writer, source, or publication.

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I cannot use em or en dashes in a program that I use for work. I had a bit of trouble finding how to override the defaults in MS Word 2010 that I could not just change by clicking on Autocorrect. I had to change the defaults so that I could create my document in Word 2010 and then copy it to the program I use for work. This site told me how to override the em/en defaults:

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/aut...

The info is on the second half of the page.

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Jon said: There's another good reason to drop the em-dash...When files are converted or transferred, punctuation is often corrupted...." So every time file conversion fails us, we should change the way we write? Pfeh!

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For what it's worth, I stopped wasting time on the differences between hyphens and dashes some years ago. I just use the hyphen ("-") for everything.

My two cents, anyway.

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