Chapter 58: Eff You em – en – em — dash

“I’ve always put a space between the dash when I’m writing. It’s aesthetically pleasing and I’ve seen it done in plenty of books and online.”

Never put a space before or after an en dash. Whilst the trend is becomming more popular online, particularly in the blogging sphere – in the literary world the accepted format is no spacing at all.

(NOTE: WordPress auto-formats a dash without spacing to a hyphen. Fun.)

“Righto,” she says and goes back over the entire 80 000+ word manuscript and removes all the spaces. It looks shit. It’s crowded and claustrophobic, but because there is so much slang and bastardisation of language and formatting – she wants to produce something that is professional – even though it probably reads like it was written by an echidna.

Popularity of spaces either side of the en dash are increasing.

“Ay? Really?”

She goes over the winners and finalists of a local short story competition. Mentors and writing peers have placed, so this should help in clearing up what correct formatting looks like. Academics being judged by fellow academics should be void of confusion, right? Wrong.

Entry 1: Spaces galore.
Entry 2: No spaces.
Entry 3: A completely different dash never seen before.

Much panic and confusion ensues. She investigates some of the other finalists.


Yes, yes, yes…
no… no… nooooo…

“Fck this,” she cries to no one and returns to her novel. Let the butchering begin.

space – space…
space – space… etc for entire novel. Thirty two migraines and an eye twitch later she exports to Mum. Of course.

“I can’t keep obsessing over this – it’s seriously sending me round the twist. I’m going insane.”

“In all my years I’ve always put the spaces in, but I suppose I’ve never written a book. The rules might have changed from my day, but you watch – in a decade – they’ll change again.”

“Forget a decade, they seem to change hourly. It’s madness out there. Go onto Google and there’s warfare about this – the debate is divided 50/50. The “experts” can’t even agree. It’s soooooo fricken confusing. So, for now I’m sticking to Oz rules as much as I can until the US and UK sort their shit out. Trying to figure that lot out is a mind numbing rabbit hole I’m still recovering from.”

“Look, I think you can put it down to “writers style” and be done with it. At the end of the day it’s the story that counts. Do you look at this stuff when you read a book, especially a really good book? No. You keep reading because of the story, not because of the bloody punctuation marks used. As long as you’ve got the main ones in correctly, everything else just distracts the reader. Em dash, en dash – they’re up there with the bloody semi-colan.”

“Oh, don’t even get me started on that bastard.”

“Nup, I’m done with him too. Just a confusing pain in the arse. Unnecessary. Get rid of it.”

“So – just go with “writers style” then?”

“Absolutely. The people who you want to serve are the people who are here for the story. They’re the only ones that matter. And what you’ve written, love is far more important than stressing out over a space or a dash. That’s my five cents.”

“And it’s worth 5 million. Thanks Mum.”

“No worries love.”

Na naa na naa naa! Busted en – dash! I dobbed on you to my Mum! Pull your head in.



Thank you Karl Craig for being one of the few voices of reason I found amongst the sludgy overly opinionated and ridiculous pompousry.

The below content has only be copied and pasted because there was an expired security warning on Karl Craig’s website and I was worried all my fellow confused and clueless writers may miss one of the most straight forward, uncomplicated and simplest explanations on the em/en dash. Please contact if you wish me to remove.
DASH — –
The dash must not be confused with the hyphen (). It comes in two sizes: the em-dash (), the width of a letter ‘m’; and an en-dash (), the width of the letter ‘n’.
In the USA, the em-dash is mostly used, with the en-dash reserved only for numeric series (see rule 5 below). Traditionally, British and Australian publishers preferred the en-dash for all cases, but some style guides now adopt the US convention.
Here are a few examples of how dashes can be used:

  1. To denote a sudden change of thought:
    • Everyone seemed happy – but not so. [UK/Aus. Note there is a space either side of the en-dash.]
    • Everyone seemed happy—but not so. [US. Note that em-dashes do not have spaces.]
    • I was about to comment on her smudged mascara – but thought discretion was wiser. [UK/Aus]
    • I was about to comment on her smudged mascara—but thought discretion was wiser. [US]
  2. To indicate a sudden break in a sentence:
    • Everything was going along quite – hey, wait a minute! [UK/Aus]
    • Everything was going along quite—hey, wait a minute! [US]
  3. A dash is often used in place of brackets or commas:
    • His golf handicap was low – not as low as he would like it to be – but low enough to be competitive.
    • The third item in the auction—the Renoir—was expected to fetch a small fortune.
  4. Two adjacent em-dashes can be used to indicate missing letters in a word (i.e. bowdlerisation – kind of expurgation or censorship):
    • So, where the b——dy hell are you? [A now abandoned advertisement for Australian Tourism.]
    • “Truth never comes into the world but like a b——rd, to the ignominy of him that brought her birth.” [John Milton – English poet (1608–1674).]
  5. Only use the en-dash (without spaces) to join inclusive numbers, or text, in a series (i.e. replacing the word ‘to’):
    • pp. 64–76 [pages 64 to 76]
    • Winston Churchill (1874–1965)
    • 10–30°C [that’s 50–86°F for non-metric readers]
    • Open Monday–Friday
    • Winton–Julia Creek rail link
    • The Mason–Dixon Line.

    Note: rules 1–3 can take either the en-dash with a space either side, or the em-dash without spaces—although the em-dash is gradually winning this race! However, the examples above in rule 5 can only use the en-dash without spaces.

  6. Some publishers use the en- or em-dash to signify an unfinished sentence:
    • And then it dawned on him—
    • She looked up, and froze –

    Note: Although this is perfectly acceptable usage, common practice nowadays prefers the use of the ellipsis (…) in these cases.

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