Hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes figure in this piece in Larry Edwards’s series on common errors authors make.

Polishing Your Prose

From the Editor’s Eye
The 10 Most Common Errors Made by Writers
(And How to Fix Them)

The seventh of a ten-part series.

#4. Dash It All! Part B: Em Dash—The Separator

The em dash serves an entirely different function than the hyphen and en dash, which I described in the previous blog. Where the hyphen and en dash are used to join text, the em dash is used to separate text. It can be used in place of commas (or parentheses) to enhance readability—or for emphasis—by setting off a word or phrase; it is used in pairs, unless the word or phrase being set off is at the end of a sentence.

  • Readability: Polly knew “store” meant liquor store—not the grocery store—but she recited the grocery list anyway.
  • Emphasis: Most people who use ellipses in e-mail overdo it—a lot.
  • The em dash may be used at the…

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