Tag Archives: punctuation

Punctuation Pizzazz with the Em-Dash

The em-dash is one of my favorite punctuation marks. No worries if you have no idea what an em-dash is. I didn’t either until I became an editor. Well, I knew what it was, I just didn’t know its name.

I love the em-dash because it’s got some pizazz. As a reader, it catches my eye and makes me pay attention to what follows it. As a writer, I can use it to slow a moment down fast, to create a mood, and to guide the readers’ attention to a detail I don’t want them to miss. The em-dash can’t be ignored.

The em-dash looks like this: — .

It is often confused with the hyphen (-) and the en-dash (–). But the em-dash (—) is longer than the hyphen and the en-dash. In the old days of typesetting, the em-dash was the width of the letter M, hence its name.

How do you use an em-dash:

  • To show an interruption in dialogue

“How could you let the dog eat—”

“Mom, the dog is puking on the rug!”

  • To show an abrupt break in thought

Mmmmm, these peanut butter cups are even better than Reese’s. The kids will demolish these. Where can I hi—

A better mom wouldn’t hide chocolate from her children. I should share—oh yeah, I don’t “should” myself anymore. These babies are all mi—

“Mom, what are you eating? Can I have some?”

  • To set off or amplify information (can replace parentheses, commas, or colons)

I love the heat—scorching, lizard-basking heat—but it’s weird to be sweating this much in October.

  • To show stuttering of whole words

I don’t—don’t think tubing down Deep Creek is a good idea. It’s looking not so deep.

How do you type an em-dash in Microsoft Word:

  • Autocorrect: may change two hyphens with no space into an em-dash (–). To see, type two hyphens (or minus signs), and then hit enter.
  • Keyboard shortcut: Type Control+Alt+NumLock+Minus at same time.
  • Insert Tabà Symbol à More Symbols à Special Characters à Em Dash à Insert à Close

Use with Care

Like any punctuation mark that commands the readers’ attention, use the em-dash with care. If you oversaturate your writing with them, they lose all their flavor.

A Holiday Card Punctuation PSA

Here’s my PSA for holiday card prep:

Apostrophes do NOT make a word (including your last name!) plural.

If you want to make your last name plural, add an “s” or “es” to the end of your name.

Correct: the Physiocs, the Hyders, the Witkopps, the Millers, the Evelyns

Incorrect: the Physioc’s, the Hyder’s, the Witkopp’s, the Miller’s, the Evelyn’s

I know you’re wondering about those names that end in “s” or “z”. What about them, you ask?

Correct: the Ayerses, the Cappses, the Corneliuses, the Martinezes

Now, I do not care for Ayerses. It looks wonky to me. So I opt for a rewrite.

Also Correct: the Ayers Family, the Capps Family, the Cornelius Family

Please, please, pretty please, do not add an apostrophe to your last name when you’re trying to make it plural.

And if you’re still not sure how to make your last name plural, email and ask me. I’ll hook you up!