Home > Grammar > The Em Dash—The Drama Queen of all Dashes

The Em Dash—The Drama Queen of all Dashes

I used to think a dash was just a dash—until my misconception was, well, dashed!  Sorry, I couldn’t resist! To date, I have discovered the following types of dashes:

(1)   The figure dash is the dash used in phone numbers. Since this particular dash is not available in typical word processors, we substitute a hyphen.

(2)   The en dash derives its name from being the width of the letter n, or half the width of the em dash. It is most commonly used to replace the word to or through in ranges of dates, times, or numbers as shown in the following:

  • 2000–2010
  • 10:00–2:00 p.m.
  • January–March
  • Pages 29–66

(3)   The em dash derives its name from being the width of the letter m. It is twice the width of the en dash. Generally, when we speak of using a dash, this is the one we are referring to! It is primarily used in informal writing to show an interruption, a change in the direction of our thought, or for added emphasis. The em dash is a bit of a drama queen. In informal writing she replaces commas, semicolons, colons, and parentheses to add emphasis, hence, the drama queen comparison! Check out the examples that follow:

  • You are the best friend—and only friend—that I can count on!
  • I need you to pick up three things from the supermarket—milk, eggs, and bacon.
  • I’ll help you clean the house—as long as you promise to take me out for supper!

This is not an exhaustive study of the subject. If anyone has any suggestions to add, please feel free to share!

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  1. May 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Thanks so much- a bit of terse knowledge form a quality teacher can slice through many years of unneeded strife.

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