One of the things on my list of things to do this year is to work on understanding the mysteries of English punctuation. While I understand the basics—like periods and exclamation points—the use of other more exotic punctuation remain a nebulous fog. Since I don’t feel quite up to wrestling with commas and hypens, I thought I’d start with the small stuff.
The En Dash
The only reason I know about this is because it seems linked to the Em Dash. This dash is the size of the letter N, has no spaces before or after it, and stands for ‘through’ in a series of numbers. It is also slightly longer than a dash so watch it.
CORRECT: The Chocolate Affairs is February 4th-6th.
INCORRECT: The Chocolate Affaire is February 4th – 6th.
Since the use of numerals in the narrative tends to be frowned upon, I don’t know when I’ll use it. But, hey, it’s good information.
Although I usually only see the Em Dash used one way in popular fiction, this lovely bit of informal punctuation has multiple uses. It also has no spaces before or after it and is the size of an M.
So what are those uses?
Well, the Em Dash can replace other punctuation—commas, colons, and parentheses—to add emphasis and avoid confusion.
It can also indicate an abrupt change of thought.
EXAMPLE: You know Janey. She has blond hair, green eyes—oh never mind.
But the most common way I’ve seen in popular writing it to indication and interruption.
Jon raked his fingers through his short hair. “What I meant was—”
“Like I’d believe anything that came out of your mouth!” Mary pivoted and stormed from the room.
I find it interesting that some writers would changed the tag to: Mary interrupted then pivoted about and stormed from the room. Since the Em dash means an interruption and the reader can see the actual interruption adding the word is overkill and boarders on insulting the reader.