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Lv 4
L asked in Education & ReferenceWords & Wordplay · 1 decade ago

What is the difference between an em-dash and an en-dash? Grammar experts?

Below are examples if an em-dash and en-dash. They seem to be used in the same concept--like so (what I just did). But I think that some authors use en-dashes instead of em-dashes; either that or it's the font. So does it matter which you use?


Bob looked around in wonder -- not bothering to pay attention to Charlie -- and sighed.


Bob looked around in wonder--not bothering to listen to Charlie--and sighed.

Help very appreciated. Thanks!

1 Answer

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    I could just give you a link to a very interesting web page on this subject, and I will.



    Ok I'll copy/paste the best part here...

    "The en dash is wider than the hyphen but not as wide as the em dash. An em width is the point size of the currently used font, since the M character is not always the width of the point size.[12]

    Traditionally an em dash—like so—or a spaced em dash — like so — has been used for a dash in running text. The Canadian The Elements of Typographic Style recommends the more concise spaced en dash – like so – and argues that the length and visual magnitude of an em dash "belongs to the padded and corseted aesthetic of Victorian typography." The spaced en dash is also the house style for certain major publishers (Penguin, Cambridge University Press, and Routledge among them, all British). However, some longstanding typographical guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style still recommend unspaced em dashes for this purpose. The Oxford Guide to Style (2002, section 5.10.10) acknowledges that the spaced en dash is used by "other British publishers", but states that the Oxford University Press—like 'most US publishers'—uses the unspaced em dash. In practice, there is little consensus, and it is a matter of personal or house taste; however, U.S. usage tends toward the em over the en for this usage.

    The en dash (always with spaces, in running text) and the spaced em dash both have a certain technical advantage over the unspaced em dash. In most typesetting and most word processing, the spacing between words is expected to be variable, so there can be full justification. Alone among punctuation that marks pauses or logical relations in text, the unspaced em dash disables this for the words between which it falls. This can lead to uneven spacing in the text.

    En dashes may be preferred to em dashes when text is set in narrow columns (as in newspapers and similar publications), due to the fact that the en dash is smaller. In such cases, use of the en dash is based purely on space considerations and is not necessarily related to other typographical concerns.

    The spaced em dash risks introducing excessive separation of words; it is already long, and the spaces increase the separation. In full justification, the adjacent spaces may be stretched, and the separation of words further exaggerated."

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