White letter M casting shadow

Tampa Writing Tutor: What is an em Dash?

Posted on 19th May 2011 in Tampa Writing Tutor

Rappers know what an Eminem dash is.

Fat kids know what an M&M dash is.

But, what, in God’s green Earth, is an em dash?

An em dash is a dash that is the width of an m.

In informal writing, em dashes may replace commas, semicolons, colons, and parentheses to indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or an abrupt change of thought. Use an em dash sparingly in formal writing, or you’ll seem as breathless as a pre-teen girl backstage at a Justin Beeber concert.

White letter M casting shadow

This image created by Dutch graphic designer marcel van den berg. Licensed under CC by SA 2.0. See more of his work at http://m-space.nl/

Similar to an extended hyphen (-), an em dash is used to show a break in thought or a shift of tone.  It provides more emphasis than a comma, colon, or semicolon.

And it’s way more fun at a party.

Em Dash Examples

1.  I wash the clothes—you wash the car.

2.  Judge Judy, I paid the bills—all of the bills—during the time we were together.

3. The car—a red Porsche Boxster—was double parked for an hour before the police came and towed it. away.

How to Make the Em Dash

Tell it that the N is after it.

Make the em dash in MS Word by holding down the “Ctrl” and “Alt” keys while you push the minus sign (—) on the number pad. The minus sign is in the upper right-hand corner of the number pad.

Incorrect Use of the Em Dash

Review your notes and read Chapters 4—5 for Wednesday’s final.

The em dash should not be used to denote a range of value when referring to dates, times, or numbers. Use the sleeker, sexier en dash instead. The en dash is the width of an n.


This post written by Eric Anderson, The Tampa Writing Tutor. Call Eric at 813.787.8959. M&M is a registered trademark of a large company that in no way endorses this blog or me or any of my friends.


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