Paula looks at when to use these punctuation marks.
I consider myself fairly competent in the use of
punctuation, but confess to a mental block at times with the use of ellipses,
and em and en dashes.
So this post is as much to provide an aide memoire to myself as to instruct anyone else how to use them.
For all I know, you may not have any problem with them!
Ellipses: usually three dots … Wikipedia says: “Depending on their context and placement in a
sentence, ellipses can indicate an unfinished thought, a leading statement, a
slight pause, a mysterious or echoing voice, or a nervous or awkward silence.”
books say different things about whether there should be spaces between the
dots, and also whether there should be three or four dots at the end of a
sentence, four dots indicating a period followed by the three dots.
speaking, I only use ellipses when a line of dialogue or a thought tails off,
but I’ve also used them to indicate a phone call when the character is
listening to someone else make the call, and only hears one side of the
conversation e.g. “Hi, Joe … Yes, sure. What time? … Okay I’ll be there.”
Em dash: the long
one — (equivalent to the width of the letter M)
En dash: the short one – (the same width as the
These are the
ones which confuse me, because it seems either can be used to indicate a break
in a sentence, or an interrupted sentence (as distinct from a ‘tailed-off’ one).
They can also be used when inserting
a thought, explanation, or clause in a sentence when commas or brackets are not desired.
To confuse matters
even further, style guides differ on whether there should be spaces on each
side of an em or en dash.
Many publishers have
their own house style for the use of these dashes. My own publisher advocates
using the em dash (with no spaces either side) to show a break in thought
mid-sentence, or an interruption at the end of a sentence, and using the en
dash (with a space either side) for inserting an extra clause in a sentence.
Your publisher may
have different house rules but I’ll conclude with two important points:
Be consistent in how
you use any ellipses or dashes and, even more important, use them sparingly and
only when absolutely necessary. A reader doesn’t want to see a page littered
with dots and dashes!