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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all:

I always get confused with these and was hoping for some opinions on how to properly use them.

First off, my keyboard has just one key with a small, horizontal, centered line. This is the hyphen key.

Hyphens (one dash, no spaces around it) are easy. They're used to join words (or prefix + word) together. A classic example is :'extra-marital sex' and 'extra marital sex' (which mean two quite different things). Other examples are 'un-American' or 'cast-iron skillet'.

But now I start getting confused. A 'dash' would be two hyphens (i.e. hit the hyphen key twice). I'm thinking this is an 'en-dash'. But many word-processing programs (including mine until I managed to turn it off somehow) automatically turn that dash (i.e. two adjacent hyphens, i.e. --) into a single longer line (which I can't replicate here). This is the em-dash, correct?

(Please feel free to correct me.)

(I remember reading once that you could get a 'true' em-dash by holding down the 'alt' key when hitting the 'hyphen' key (to get the single longer line). Unfortunately that doesn't word in my version of Word.)

I predominantly use dashes in one of two ways. The first way is to show someone being interrupted.

Example 1
"That's a good question," John said. "I don't know if---"
"Never mind. It doesn't matter."


The other way is to set off part of a sentence.

Example 2
Many word-processing programs -- including mine -- automatically correct your spelling.

Am I doing this correctly?

I was taught to use...
1. one hyphen between words (with no spaces),
2. two hyphens between phases (single space on each side), and
3. three hyphens to indicate interruption (no spaces).

This makes logical sense to me but I know 'logic' and 'grammar' don't necessarily go together.
 

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I don't know. But it might be instructive to put the different candidates on a page and copy it to the Kindle to see what it does with it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Terrence OBrien said:
I don't know. But it might be instructive to put the different candidates on a page and copy it to the Kindle to see what it does with it.
I was going to ask that too but felt my post was getting too long. Unfortunately I'm not at that point yet, don't even own an e-reader. (But I'm getting a color Nook for my birthday in four days!!!)
 

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I have a Nook, too. You can USB copy to it just like the Kindle. That way you can see exactly what your book looks like before pushing the upload button.
 

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In variable-width fonts (such as all fonts your computer uses except Courier--which you won't use because it's ugly) an en-dash is the length of the small letter n, an em-dash is.... you guessed it.

The two are more or less interchangeable, but depend on a publisher's house style. The difference is the en-dashes come with spaces around them, and em-dashes have no spaces. In my experience, this is a hard rule.

Also: it's a good idea, fomatting-wise, at least in fiction, to use only one type, except in specific circumstances (below).

Very roughly speaking, US-based publishers will use em-dashes for subclauses, for example:

Joe bought his coffee at the cafe on the corner--he always did this--and went to the station.

UK/Aus-based publishers will prefer to use an en-dash (with spaces on both sides).

The only time they will use an em-dash is to indicate a broken-off sentence, like when someone is interrupted speaking.

In non-fiction, especially scientific non-fiction, en-dashes and em-dashes can have different functions, but if you're going that route, ask for the publication's style sheet (this is probably beyond this response).
 

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I use one hyphen between words, and 2 for thoughts and interrupted text, without spaces. Word typically fixes the -- problem for me, and makes it an actual em-dash. But, I do my own formatting for Kindle, so I usually replace all punctuation with the html equivalent.

Mostly, I think just go by whatever works for you. Just be consistent with it. A lot of people's opinions vary, obviously, so pick which works for you. Read some books, see how they look, go from there.
 

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It's not so much a matter of opinion, but that the two are more or less interchangeable, therefore, there is no right or wrong, and what you use depends on what your publisher wants. Now if you don't have a publisher, you make the rules. Grab a book off the shelf and copy what it does with this nebulous piece of punctuation.

As long as, like Lanie says, you are consistent.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
DreamWeaver said:
<snip>
When I created my husband's ebook, I did insert the proper em dashes. But there can be a drawback, on the Kindle anyway. Kindle attempts to right-justify text, but it cannot hyphenate. If a line break occurs at an em dash block of words, the Kindle cannot break it right after the dash, as you would see in print. Instead, it treats the entire word-em dash-word as a block and carries it all to the next line. This can leave a very unsightly space at the end, where the line broke. Here's a Kindle screenshot with the gap circled so you can see what I'm talking about:

<snip>

Some people use space-hyphen-space or space-hyphen-hyphen-space instead of em dash in ebooks to get around that problem. In my husband's book, this large em dash gap occurs only once so it's not a big deal. And if a different sized font is used, this gap won't occur since the line breaks in a different location.
DreamWeaver - Thank you, thank you, thank you. I remember reading something about this somewhere but your explanation makes more sense.

I think I'll go with the UK fashion (space/hyphen/hyphen/space) to set off a clause within a sentence. That avoids the problem you pointed out.

As regards showing someone being interrupted, I seem to remember you're supposed to use an em dash (with no preceeding spaces) if the last word is not complete and an em dash (with a preceeding space) if the word is complete.

"How could you --"
"I didn't."


and

"How could you even con--"
"I didn't."


Sound familiar to anyone else??
 

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BarbaraKE said:
As regards showing someone being interrupted, I seem to remember you're supposed to use an em dash (with no preceeding spaces) if the last word is not complete and an em dash (with a preceeding space) if the word is complete.

"How could you --"
"I didn't."


and

"How could you even con--"
"I didn't."


Sound familiar to anyone else??
Not to me. The rule I'm familiar with is to be consistent and either use the space or don't. AP Stylebook says to put a space on either side of an em dash; Chicago Manual of style says no, leave it flush.*

Also, if a symbol in your text is looking funny on Kindle, have you tried fiddling with the CSS or HTML entities?

As a note, 1 "em" = presumably the height of a line of text. 1 "en" = half that. The appropriate substitute for an en dash is a hyphen, when you can't use the en dash symbol. The en dash has very specific rules that can be a bit tricky to unravel, so it's easier to ignore the en dash and just use a hyphen.

*Disclaimer: I'm speaking in terms of US grammar, here.
 

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When I started self-publishing my backlist after years of seeing copyedits, I decided not to follow correct form, rather what I thought looked best on screen. Publishers have their own house style, which can be very different, and I've written for several major houses. So self-publishers can also.

Double dashes aren't acceptable for em-dashes at any time, but in My Style, I connect the em dash to the first word and leave a space after the em dash, this to break up the lines. Also ellipses, etc. the same way, i.e. give me a chance... will you? Or Time will tell....

The reason for that and no spaces between the periods is that your longer line could read like this:
give me a chance
... will you?

Or time will tell
....

Not appealing visually. Also I try to clean up any extra spaces by using the para view.
 

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Maybe this article on DailyWritingTips can help http://www.dailywritingtips.com/en-dashes-clarify-compound-phrasal-adjectives/
(They have a free, daily email newsletter)

Personally I seldom use the n-dash - though it happens - because I prefer the m-dash.

I am on Linux Ubuntu and it is very easy to install shortcuts for them which work in every text enabled program. In Windows I think you have to use the alt-key plus the numerical code:
  • n-dash: 2013
  • m-dash: 2014
 

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i don't think you need an em-dash. i think you're looking for the en-dash:

here is how i do them:

on mac: the en-dash appears when you hit – option hyphen

on pc: the en-dash appears when you hit – control minus (on the 10-key)

those are en-dashes that i typed after 'hit' ...
 

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The em dash is the correct dash to use when interrupting a thought or indicating a sudden break in dialogue. There should be no spaces between the dash and the words on either side of the dash. (You may verify this by consulting The Chicago Manual of Style.)

To turn two dashes into a long em dash, in Word, try this trick: insert a space between the first two letters of the word that follows the em dash and then delete the space. Word will automatically convert the two dashes to a long line.

The question of ellipses spacing appears to be one of personal choice. Some publishers keep the dots together (...) and some insert spaces between the dots (. . .). The only firm rule is that the dots must all appear on the same line.
 

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For what it's worth as far as adding to the confusion, aka my two cents of informed wisdom, all I know is that when I typed out a mss, I used two dashes, and after it went through the copyediting process at the publishers, the print book came out with the long em dash.  That was how they appeared in the publisher's versions of the ebooks too.  Now that I have the rights back to a bunch of books, I've been formatting the original files to upload, and I've been changing all the double dashes to em dashes.  For elipses, I've noticed the pub version has spaces before and after ( ... )  The elipses have been continuous with no spaces.
 

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destill said:
The em dash is the correct dash to use when interrupting a thought or indicating a sudden break in dialogue. There should be no spaces between the dash and the words on either side of the dash. (You may verify this by consulting The Chicago Manual of Style.)
I've seen both practices used by respected publishers and authors. The CMS is a guideline, more intended for internal consistency. A lot of people seem to think that following it is optional. Not to mention that practices change. E.g., the double space at the end of a sentence was made redundant since we have proportional characters now. Nevertheless some still use it.

The question of ellipses spacing appears to be one of personal choice. Some publishers keep the dots together (...) and some insert spaces between the dots (. . .). The only firm rule is that the dots must all appear on the same line.
The ellipsis has its own hex-code: 2026, which gives you "&#8230;" (this is one character, which you can verify by trying to highlight one dot) instead of "...", though I don't think it's much used.

A lot of these things seem to depend on individual taste.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
destill said:
The em dash is the correct dash to use when interrupting a thought or indicating a sudden break in dialogue. There should be no spaces between the dash and the words on either side of the dash. (You may verify this by consulting The Chicago Manual of Style.)
destill - The main problem with this (other than the fact that it simply looks odd to me) is the problem that DreamWeaver mention (i.e. the possibility of causing odd-looking gaps when viewed on a kindle). But a space/em dash/space might work.

destill said:
The question of ellipses spacing appears to be one of personal choice. Some publishers keep the dots together (...) and some insert spaces between the dots (. . .). The only firm rule is that the dots must all appear on the same line.
The only way to ensure they'll end up on the same line is to keep them together, right? In other words, dot/dot/dot, not dot/space/dot/space/dot.

(The dot/dot/dot reminds me of that song from 'Mamma Mia!')
 
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