View Full Version : What is the correct usage on the em dash?


JSWolf
10-12-2007, 06:24 PM
Is the correct usage of the em dash...

1. word—word
2. word— word
3. word — word

One of them is correct and one is not. Which is it? I have seen different usages in different books. I'd like to make books I format at least consistent with the correct usage. Thanks.

Oh, Why Not?
10-12-2007, 06:28 PM
I've always been taught #1. But I find what I've been taught doesn't mean much these days.

Oh, Why Not?
10-12-2007, 06:34 PM
Here's what wikipaedia says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Em_dash#Em_dash

jbenny
10-12-2007, 07:51 PM
I also believe that #1 (no spaces) is the correct usage. I think it also looks better.

JSWolf
10-12-2007, 08:06 PM
I also believe that #1 (no spaces) is the correct usage. I think it also looks better.
I just asked my wife who used to teach English in the UK and she said #1 word—word is correct.

slayda
10-12-2007, 09:03 PM
Interestingly enough, only number 3 does not get flagged by MS Word as misspelling. It is also what I find easier to read.

Jadon
10-12-2007, 09:17 PM
The no-space version also hurts wrapping, since most programs treat “one—two” as a single long word. That's a significant issue, depending on screen size and font size. I always edit the HTML files I'm going to convert to IMP format to change [one][emdash][two] style to [one][space][endash][space][two] format for wrapping reasons.

RWood
10-12-2007, 09:29 PM
Historically #1 is correct. I favor #3. I also favor only one space after a period at the end of a sentence. (Two if you are using a monospaced font.)

In modern practice #1 and #3 are correct. #2 is correct only when dealing with dates.

Oh, Why Not?
10-12-2007, 09:29 PM
The Wikipedia article agrees with you on that (two spaces) as an alternative. So, what works . . ..

HarryT
10-13-2007, 04:02 AM
My understanding is that #1 is the strictly correct version, but personally I prefer the appearance of #3.

DTM
10-13-2007, 09:59 AM
...I'd like to make books I format at least consistent with the correct usage. Thanks.

If you're interested in consistency in the e-book world, #1 is what is used by Distributed Proofreaders, the primary source of Gutenberg texts, for what it's worth.

akiburis
10-13-2007, 10:39 AM
For what it's worth, my understanding of current standard usage (at least in the US) is that the parenthetical em dash is set without spaces on either side; for those who dislike the unspaced em dash, the en dash with spaces is the usual alternative.

JSWolf
10-13-2007, 11:18 AM
But for situations where you don't have hyphenation, #3 is the better solution as #1 can and does make lines have really poor spacing.

HarryT
10-13-2007, 11:33 AM
But you probably shouldn't use the em-dash if you go for #3, but the shorter en-dash instead.

andym
10-23-2007, 07:46 AM
The no-space version also hurts wrapping, since most programs treat “one—two” as a single long word. That's a significant issue, depending on screen size and font size. I always edit the HTML files I'm going to convert to IMP format to change [one][emdash][two] style to [one][space][endash][space][two] format for wrapping reasons.

If you use zero width non-joiners you can get the best of both worlds ie:

‌&emdash;‌

JSWolf
10-23-2007, 09:31 AM
If you use zero width non-joiners you can get the best of both worlds ie:

‌&emdash;‌
Doesn't work in Book Designer.

DaleDe
10-23-2007, 12:14 PM
If you use zero width non-joiners you can get the best of both worlds ie:

‌&emdash;‌

Good idea but I would not add the one before the dash. I don't think a dash at the start of a line looks very good. And if you use spaces around the dash then I would make the first one a nonbreaking space to avoid the chance that the mdash or ndash will start a line.  

Dale

JSWolf
10-23-2007, 05:51 PM
The "space en dash space" works ok.

gmanacsa
10-23-2007, 10:52 PM
The "space en dash space" works ok.

Typically, the en dash is reserved for ranges, such as dates or page numbers. There's an excellent article on typography for the web (and by extension, reflowable ebook text including epub) at A List Apart:

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

RWood
10-23-2007, 11:20 PM
It is also used to add material to a sentence where the inserted material is bounded on both sides by an em dash. It is stronger than a coma offset or a paren.

andym
10-24-2007, 07:15 AM
Good idea but I would not add the one before the dash. I don't think a dash at the start of a line looks very good. And if you use spaces around the dash then I would make the first one a nonbreaking space to avoid the chance that the mdash or ndash will start a line.  

Dale

Hmm I think you can argue it both ways. Grammatically, if you have a perenthesis then it makes more sense to have the dash with the words that are in the parenthesis - even if that means starting a line with a dash . If the dash is introducing a subordinate clause then if makes sense to have the dash with the main clause. The problem is that unless you have way too much time on your hands then you can't go through an entire book making these decisions so it's probably best, for better or worse, to simply leave it to chance. Using the two zero width non-joiners also avoids the risk of the software hyphenating the word and having a part word followed by a dash on the next line.

And the non-breaking space will show as a space. So its's better to use either a zero width joiner or nothing at all.

DaleDe
10-24-2007, 12:32 PM
Hmm I think you can argue it both ways. Grammatically, if you have a perenthesis then it makes more sense to have the dash with the words that are in the parenthesis - even if that means starting a line with a dash . If the dash is introducing a subordinate clause then if makes sense to have the dash with the main clause. The problem is that unless you have way too much time on your hands then you can't go through an entire book making these decisions so it's probably best, for better or worse, to simply leave it to chance. Using the two zero width non-joiners also avoids the risk of the software hyphenating the word and having a part word followed by a dash on the next line.

And the non-breaking space will show as a space. So its's better to use either a zero width joiner or nothing at all.

To each their own I suppose. A dash represents a pause in the flow of the text and then pregnant pause is better represented on the end of a line than on the beginning of the next IMHO. It also matches the use of the hyphen. Having a dash on the beginning of the line breaks the flow, visually, of the paragraph. The case of the space in my posting was for editors that do not support the butted dash or does not support the zero width non-joiners. If you really look at the results on a page you can certainly tell visually about the impact of the dash. It is not the same as a parenthesis as it is grouped with a start and an end while a dash often does not have this construction although occasionally it does. Personally I will sometimes butt a dash to the preceding text and leave a space after it when I don't know what the tool will do. I do agree that that a non-joiner is the best when the tool supports it but again I will only put one after the dash, not on both sides.

Dale

andym
10-25-2007, 04:30 AM
It is not the same as a parenthesis as it is grouped with a start and an end while a dash often does not have this construction although occasionally it does.

Erm, I think you'll find that emdashes are very often used for parentheses.

DaleDe
10-25-2007, 11:53 AM
Erm, I think you'll find that emdashes are very often used for parentheses.

True but not always and the physical look is certainly different and the effect on the user experience when reading them is different, in my case at least. If they were the same as parentheses then why not use parentheses. emdashes are sometimes used as a cross between parentheses and ellipses.

hapax legomenon
10-26-2007, 12:15 AM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash#Em_dash

I researched this issue a few months ago. My solution is to rarely use the em dash and use the en dash instead.
word ndash word
Why? To do the mdash correctly, you need to allow no spaces between the words. But that often is impractical for browsers and even word processors because it will join the words together when determining end of line.

Ndash doesn't look long enough, but actually it looks good enough in most fonts.

Odd fact: I type my fiction in a simple text editor which has an html conversion feature. It doesn't do the em/en dashes properly though, so I end up spelling the word "ndash" and then doing a global substitution. When you are doing that kind of substitution, it's easier to be able to substitute the ndash; entity for a word that is separated from the adjoining words. That's a use case specific to my editor; however, I imagine that it's just easier to work with ndashes in general.

andym
10-26-2007, 01:53 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash#Em_dash

I researched this issue a few months ago. My solution is to rarely use the em dash and use the en dash instead.
word ndash word
Why? To do the mdash correctly, you need to allow no spaces between the words. But that often is impractical for browsers and even word processors because it will join the words together when determining end of line.

Ndash doesn't look long enough, but actually it looks good enough in most fonts.

Odd fact: I type my fiction in a simple text editor which has an html conversion feature. It doesn't do the em/en dashes properly though, so I end up spelling the word "ndash" and then doing a global substitution. When you are doing that kind of substitution, it's easier to be able to substitute the ndash; entity for a word that is separated from the adjoining words. That's a use case specific to my editor; however, I imagine that it's just easier to work with ndashes in general.

Some publishers (Penguin I think) have standardised on en dashes. I must admit I'm still attached to em dashes in a nostalgic sort of way. ditto with curly quotes.

IceHand
10-26-2007, 03:04 PM
I'm used to "word – word" (en dash) because that's most common in books around here in Germany. I think in the UK some publishers are going over to this format too, because it's looking better typographically (you know, with the black and white coverage ...). "Word—word" (em dash) is still most prevalent in English speaking countries though, I think, as it has been for ages.

JSWolf
10-26-2007, 03:45 PM
I'm liking "word – word" as opposed to "word—word". I can tell the first is not just a dash and because of the spacing I read it as though it was — and not a -. Also, it makes less of a chance of "word—word" being too long to fit on the previous line when "word – word" would let the first word go on the line above.

IceHand
10-26-2007, 04:27 PM
I'm liking "word – word" as opposed to "word—word". I can tell the first is not just a dash and because of the spacing I read it as though it was — and not a -. [...]
Well, in effect it is more or less the same as an em dash (it has the same meaning), so it's natural that you read it that way.
I prefer "word – word" too, btw.