Em-dash, En-dash, hyphen, ellipsis

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This topic contains 7 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Peter Kahrel 8 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #101612

    I am getting ready to typeset a book. I usually do a lot of flyers and a calendar once a year, so this is a different animal for me. I have been reviewing when to use Em-dash, En-dash, hyphen, and ellipsis.

    The more I read the more confused I get. Is there a good article linked somewhere that gives a good explanation of these uses?

    I have also seen Em-dash with no spaces at all and in the most recent article by Nigel French on designing books, he has likes to have the Em-dash only 80% of normal width with a small space on either side.

    It seems to me that a lot of places where people put in an Em-dash, but an ellipsis would work just as well.

    I need a good article to get it in my mind… and then I need to try to follow it all the way through for consistency.


  • #101613

    My 2¢:

    An Em-dash is a break in thought or a pause. An ellipsis represents words that are not shown, similar to etc. The spaces around hyphens and dashes seem to be style choices.

    It was one of those sunny days—the kind that can make you blind, delirious, mad…. (An ellipsis at the end of a sentence should have ending punctuation, so ellipsis+period looks like 4 periods)

  • #101618

    Aris K

    Here is a very nice article regarding the Em Dash: https://themillions.com/2018/01/regarding-the-em-dash.html

  • #101620

    I’ve set thousands of books over the years, and it is very rare to have space on either side of an em or en dash (in my experience). And we’ve never made an em dash 80 percent of it’s size. I do recall one publisher who preferred a thin space on either side of em dashes, but that was the exception. A lot of it depends upon which country it’s being set in. For example, the UK seems to use en dashes with a space on either side instead of em dashes. Some use spaced ellipses, while others use the actual ellipses charter (non spaced).

    A good source of em dashes, en dashes, ellipses, etc., is the Chicago Manual of Style.

  • #101621

    David Blatner

    There are no right or wrong answers here because it is a question of typographic design, which is subjective. Nigel’s comment about making the em dash 80% wide had to do with that individual font, not all em dashes. He felt it was too wide for his design, so he changed it. That’s his prerogative as a designer.

    I love having a thin space before and after en and em dashes, but it’s a bit of a hassle to do. I did, however, write about one solution here:

    Automatically Add Space Around Em Dashes and En Dashes

    • #101622

      That’s true. Sometimes em dashes look way too long.

      And as you said–there are no right or wrong answers.

  • #101706

    According to spelling rules in my language (Croatian) hyphen is spelling symbol which is written without whites on the left and on the right. Dash (en dash and em dash) is spelling symbol which is written with whites on the left and on the right (exception: writing a page in bibliographic data, dashes are written without whites).
    Interesting online book: Butterick’s Practical Typography (https://practicaltypography.com/index.html#toc) and some information about hyphens and dashes https://practicaltypography.com/hyphens-and-dashes.html

  • #101727

    Peter Kahrel

    Kirk — The use of hyphens and dashes differs in the UK and the US (and other Anglophone countries). For US use, consult the Chicago Manual of Style. For UK usage, use New Hart’s Rules (by Oxford University Press).

    Nigel’s approach is a funny hybrid. Generally, in the US you use unspaced em-dashes, in Europe (including the UK), spaced en-dashes. So 80% em-dashes with thin or half spaces is somewhere in-between US and European usage. Even their names differ on both sides of the pond: what you call em- and en-dashes are called em- and en-rules in the UK!

    Anyway, it’s up to the publisher how they want the punctuation to appear. If your job is for an individual who leaves the design and the copy-edit to you, then follow either the CMS or the Hart’s.


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