What Is an Em Dash and How Do I Use It
Hyphens, en Dashes, Em Dashes
In order to understand an em dash, it’s important to put it into perspective. That means we need to explore a few details on hyphens and en dashes. The following are definitions from CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style).
- The hyphen connects two things that are intimately related, usually words that function together as a single concept or work together as a joint modifier (e.g., tie-in, toll-free call, two-thirds).
- En dash
- The en dash connects things that are related to each other by distance, as in the May–September issue of a magazine; it’s not a May-September issue, because June, July, and August are also ostensibly included in this range. And in fact en dashes specify any kind of range, which is why they properly appear in indexes when a range of pages is cited (e.g., 147–48). [Note: You should use ‘en’ dashes to separate the dates on your resume.]
- Em dash
- 1A. The em dash allows, in a manner similar to parentheses, an additional thought to be added within a sentence by sort of breaking away from that sentence.
- 1B. Em dashes also substitute for something missing.
- 1C. Also, the em dash may serve as a sort of bullet point.
The Most Common Uses of an Em Dash
For clarification, here are a few real-life examples of the three primary functions of an em dash.
- To take the place of a colon, but with more punch.
- Carla hated three things—deception, falsehoods, and lies.
- To offset a parenthetical phrase or thought.
- No matter what happened—good, bad, or indifferent—in Uncle Dominic’s house it was cause to put espresso on the stove.
- To indicate an interruption in dialogue.
- “I’m through talking,” he said. “The next time—”
“There won’t be a ‘next time,’” she said, and slammed the door.
To wrap this up neatly.
- A hyphen would be used to connect compound modifiers on a resume, such as “hands-on manager,” or “high-volume manufacturing.”
- An en dash would be used to connect the dates on a resume, such as “2003–Present.”
- An em dash might be used in a cover letter, such as this one. “As general manager—and temporary vice president of sales—drove profits to record levels.”
Note: In all instances, you don’t use spaces on either side of the dashes.
- To make a hyphen (-), press the hyphen key on the keyboard. ￼
- To make an en dash (–), press “option-” on a Mac or, if using a PC, press “control and minus sign on the numeric keypad.”
- To make an em dash (—), press “option/shift-” on a Mac or on a PC, press “control/alt and minus sign on the numeric keypad.”
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