Em Dash

What is an Em Dash?

An em dash is a punctuation mark that is longer than a hyphen and shorter than a regular dash. It is primarily used to indicate a pause in a sentence, to show an interruption or digression, or to signify added emphasis. When using em dashes, it’s important to be mindful of the grammar rules surrounding them since they can change the meaning of the sentence if used incorrectly.

Lexicographers also recognize em dashes as useful devices that allow writers to make full stops while still keeping their flow intact. When put together correctly, em dashes can add structure and hierarchy to an otherwise plain sentence or group of words, which gives readers an enjoyable experience.

Em Dash Rules

Learning these four critical rules when using an em dash will help communication become clearer and easier. With these four rules firmly entrenched in one’s grammar skillset, any English speaker can properly construct sentences with ease!

IndicationFirstly, an apostrophe is generally used to indicate possession or omissions of letters/words.
PlacementSecondly, commas should be placed where you would naturally pause while reading a sentence aloud.
UsageThirdly, colons should be used to introduce a list or explain a sentence after it has begun.
ClausesLastly, semicolons are used to join two independent clauses that are closely related.
Em Dash Rules and Explanations Table
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Em Dash Examples

An em dash, sometimes called a dash or m-dash, is often used in writing to represent a break in thought or a pause for emphasis. This type of punctuation is created by including two hyphens together, often with no spaces around either side of the em dash.

Common em dash examples can be seen directly in conversation, with the em dashes being used to indicate an interruption or digression.

Creative writers and authors also have taken advantage of em dashes for more subtle stylistic implications, including expressivity and dramatic emotion that transcends basic language.

In both casual and sophisticated writing contexts, em dashes lend the style of dignified conversations and provide an important punctuation tool.

Em Dash Exercises with Answers

Insert the em dash where you think it belongs.


  • I spent all my savings a lot more than I am willing to admit.
  • The game something we should play sometime.
  • My family loves the beach it’s one of our favourite vacation spots.
  • She departed on her trip a ten-hour drive earlier today.
  • I was expecting the usual birthday presents not this surprise!


  • I spent all my savingsa lot more than I am willing to admit.
  • The gamesomething we should play sometime.
  • My family loves the beachit’s one of our favourite vacation spots.
  • She departed on her tripa ten-hour driveearlier today.
  • I was expecting the usual birthday presentsnot this surprise!

Em Dash List

An em dash is a punctuation mark used in writing to denote a break or pause. Em dashes can be used similarly to parentheses and commas, however, they are usually considered more impactful, emphasizing certain words or phrases for the reader. 

Sidenotes“Cleaning the house—a job no one likes—is still necessary.”
Emphasize an idea“His roommate, who was always away from home—was far from ideal.”
Additions“I want you to come along (I insist)—that would make it more fun!”
Separators“my daughter—the brilliant young student—is close to graduating”
Elaboration“John said he was considering taking up fishing—or knitting—this summer.”
Em Dash List Table
English Grammar Learning Infographic

Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

As an ESL student or English language learner, it can be daunting to master the rules of grammar. An em dash—which is a punctuation mark that looks like two hyphens (—) in between words—can not only break up the flow of text but highlight important information within a sentence.

Therefore, mastering em dashes will make your writing stand out and emphasize certain points within its syntax. This can help you communicate your ideas more effectively and efficiently. When written correctly, em dashes can make your writing look more precise while also giving it clarity and structure. The best way to master em dashes is to practice using them in sentences and learn when best to incorporate them into your writing.

Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand how to use the hyphen and punctuation marks definition and examples.

Common Mistakes Made by English Learners

English learners commonly make the mistake of using em dashes incorrectly. An em dash is a punctuation mark used to separate elements within a sentence, typically words or phrases that are too long to be separated by commas or need a dramatic pause during reading.

That being said, em dashes should not be used in place of hyphens or colons. Instead, em dashes should be inserted among several word groups in a single sentence to provide added emphasis and provide an interruption between ideas that may invite readers to stop and think about the connection between them. When em dashes are used correctly it can have an immense impact on the clarity, flow and drama of a piece writing – making it all the more interesting for the reader!

Common Mistakes:

1. Incorrect Tense

Why it Happens

Not having a firm grasp on correct punctuation marks can confuse your statements. This can cause you to use the wrong punctuation marks and misconstrue your message.

Correct Use

When speaking English, you would use punctuation marks that reflect the subject in question. Keep context in mind when selecting your punctuation marks.

2. Lack of punctuation marks

Why it Happens

The easiest mistake is leaving out punctuation marks when needed. Failing to use these in phrases can lead others to misinterpret what you are trying to express.

Correct Use

Punctuation marks join words together – for example, ‘heavy-handed’ or ‘ever-sure’.

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3. Inconsistency

Why it Happens

People forget how they described something before and change the context in a contradictory manner. This confuses the reader.

Correct Use

Be sure that your punctuation marks remain consistent throughout your writing. There should be no sudden shifts.

4. Incorrect Usage

Why it Happens

You don’t know which punctuation marks to use, so you use too many and it confuses the statement.

Correct Use

Using too many punctuation marks can make your writing sound monotonous and can also lead to viewers losing interest. Therefore it is important to focus on expressing yourself clearly and effectively with them.

Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes:

Writing can be tricky at times, and it’s easy to make common mistakes in your text.

  • One of the most commonly misused pieces of punctuation is the em dash. It should be used sparingly to indicate a break or an abrupt change in your sentence, not as if it were parentheses or quotation marks.
  • If you’re unsure of how to use em dashes correctly, you can always look up guidelines online or in a writing style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style.
  • Reviewing em dash usage can help you create more professional, polished writing that has fewer common errors throughout.
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Learning Em Dash Use Strategies and Best Practices

Learning em dash use strategies and best practices can benefit anyone striving to become a better writer. The em dash is a great way to make a sentence more interesting while adding clarity to topics that may otherwise be confusing; it also helps make the writing stand out from the rest. To get the most out of em dashes, knowing how and when to use them correctly is essential.

Educating oneself on what constitutes an em dash as well as its varied uses can help create stronger, more compelling pieces of writing. There are many resources available online and in bookstores that will provide helpful guidance, making em dashes easier to understand and incorporate into articles, blog posts, or other written material. Keep reading for more useful tips:

Tip 1: Study a List

Why it helps

Learning the various punctuation marks and using them properly in speaking and writing is easier than it seems with daily practice. A list can simplify this process and make it seem less daunting.

Daily Life Example

The best way to learn to use punctuation marks correctly is to study a list of words and their usage, and then practice writing sentences with them.

Tip 2: Practice Reading

Why it helps

Exposing yourself to punctuation marks hidden between other words can help you identify them faster and with more accuracy.

Daily Life Example

To ensure that you understand how frequently a type of punctuation mark should be used it’s important to practice reading with them as well, so the meanings become clear. So keep a book of your choice on hand and highlight every punctuation mark you come across.

Tip 3: Everyday Conversations

Why it helps

By applying the punctuation marks exercise to everyday written conversations, you’ll find these words easy to remember and use in the near future.

Daily Life Example

Take your time when speaking to people. Take note of the grammar they use, and try and repeat them back in different contexts. You can also do this from the comfort of your home by recording yourself or using an AI assistant.

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Em Dash Frequently Asked Questions

An em dash is an incredibly useful piece of punctuation for making powerful points in formal writing. It can be used for several purposes, such as to indicate a break in thought, separate elements of an enumeration, and set off parenthetical statements.

This punctuation mark is much longer than the hyphen and shorter than the regular dash, typically two ems long. Its name comes from its form: two ems are equal to the size of one letter m.

On keyboards, it may be commonly found as two hyphens side by side (–). Using em dashes appropriately adds clarity and variety to written works while being expressive enough to capture our thoughts succinctly.

An em dash, also known as a long dash or “m” dash, is used to emphasize a thought in writing, separate two sets of words, or indicate an interruption in speech. It consists of two hyphens together (–) and can be seen trying to replace commas, parentheses and colons in various sentences.

Em dashes are particularly useful when a writer has several commas within one phrase already present; such was the case with famous authors such as Ernest Hemmingway. Their use by authors allows for more effective emphasis on certain thoughts and words than traditional symbols. Em dashes can drastically improve the overall structure and flow of your writing if appropriately implemented.

Em dashes can be a powerful tool for formal writing when applied correctly. They have the potential to add drama, punctuation and emphasis to a sentence.

Em dashes are longer than hyphens but shorter than standard dashes and are typically used in a single space — although they can be used separately — to set off parenthetical phrases or clauses. To use em dash effectively in formal writing, think about the desired tone, intent of the sentence and context of the writing. When used properly, em dashes can elevate your written work and create sentences that hold readers’ attention.

The em-dash is used in writing to indicate pauses, interruptions or breaks that are stronger than commas to separate thoughts. It also serves to enliven the text and create flow; for example, em-dashes can be used to lead into an explanation, emphasise a point or add a brief pause for dramatic effect. Em-dashes bring clarity and fluidity to writing, transforming it from dull blocks of text into an engaging story.

They can be used in a variety of situations, including quotation dashes, graphic design use, double hyphens, consecutive hyphens, swung dashes, closing dashes, signature dashes, the three-hyphen em dash proxy, the two-hyphen em dash proxy, figure dashes, adjacent spaces, space considerations, MHRA style, style differences, house style, predominant style, special characters, spacing characters, separating lowercase letters, middle letters, single letters, markup languages, incorporating extender marks, sudden breaks, bulleted lists, items in lists, and Unicode symbols.

An em dash – also known as a long dash – is a punctuation mark used to add an abrupt break in thought or emphasize an idea within a sentence. It is roughly the width of two hyphens, and its usage is recommended by the Associated Press Stylebook, although APA and MLA often suggest using two hyphens instead.

Using these types of the dash can make a sentence more dynamic and lend itself to dramatic pauses in writing that don’t overuse commas. They are generally easier for readers to identify than parenthesis as well.

With thoughtful use, em dashes can make writing much clearer and more engaging for readers.

Learn from History – Follow the Science – Listen to the Experts

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