Welcome to yet another installment of Punctuation 101, the posts that are all about punctuation. I'm your host, Jill Williamson. And today, we're talking about dashes and ellipses. What's the difference, you ask? Well, let's find out.
There are two kinds of dashes that are used most often in writing:
the em dash —
and the en dash –
These are both different from a hyphen -
*Please note, my instructions for creating the dashes is for word processing programs like Microsoft Word. It doesn't work online. If you're online, you either use one hyphen or two.
The em dash
To create the em dash, type a word, then type two hyphens, then type the next word, then type a space. Do not put any spaces until you are done with the sequence. What you type will look like this: word--word(space)
When you hit that last space bar, the two dashes will convert to an em dash. It's pretty cool. If you can't figure out how to make that super long em dash show up, it's acceptable to use two hyphens in place of the em dash--like that.
1. Use an em dash to set off parenthetical material that you want to emphasize.
Ex: Everything that went wrong—from the C- on our history project to Tom breaking up with her—Shelly blamed on me.
Ex: Can you believe that Susie Walker—a cheerleader and a freshman—won homecoming queen?
2. Use an em dash to set off appositives that contain commas.
Ex: When you apply the make-up—foundation, mascara, eye shadow, and lipstick—be sure to follow the guidelines.
3. Use an em dash to signify a break it thought.
Ex: “I can’t believe Mr. Thomas ate all the—did you just say that Kate had the baby?”
4. Use an em dash to signify an interruption.
Ex: “I don’t know why it happened. Maybe it’s because—”
“I don’t want to hear your excuses. I’m sick of them!”
The en dash
To create the en dash, type a word, type a space, then type one hyphen, then type the next word, then type a space. What you type will look like this: word(space)-word(space)
When you hit that last space bar, the dash will convert to an en dash. This is also pretty cool. NOTE: You'll have to go back and take out the first space once the dash is converted. It's proper format that no space appear before or after the dash. If you read Harry Potter, you'll see spaces with her dashes. Keep in mind that J. K. Rowling is a British author and the punctuation and grammar rules are different there. I am teaching the rules for the
1. Use an en dash to connect inclusive numbers such as: page numbers, dates, or Bible references. Here the en dash means "up to and including" or "through."
Ex: Please read in your text pages 86–92.
Ex: I went to college from 1993–1997.
Ex: I read John 3:16–17 and it changed my life.
Singular: ellipsis [ih-lip-sis]
Plural: ellipses [ih-lip-seez]
To create an ellipsis, type three periods in a row and hit enter. Most programs will automatically format it into an ellipsis. If your program won't, you can simply type three periods in a row: ... Or you can type three periods with a space in between each: . . . As long as you are consistent, the editors will not care. When the time comes, they can easily replace all your ellipses with the Find/Replace function to whatever standard their publishing house requires.
There should be a space before and after each ellipsis.
Correct ex: "Can you . . . believe it?"
Incorrect ex: "Can you. . .believe it?"
If the ellipsis is at the beginning or end of a sentence that uses quotes, do not put a space between the ellipsis and the quotes.
Ex: "But how will I . . ."
Ex: ". . . because I said so."
Ellipses are used to show thought or dialogue faltering or trailing off. If your character is confused, insecure, uncertain, falling asleep, or passing out, an ellipsis is the tool you want to convey this.
Ex: “Where . . . I had it right . . . then medallion . . . I must have dropped it!”
Ex: “I want to go there . . . first thing . . . in the morning.”
Ex: “Okay. I’ll tell you who shot me. It was . . .” Kit’s body went limp in John’s arms.
Some publishers use four-dot ellipsis when they fall at the end of a paragraph. Some don't. You will not be rejected for doing this one way or the other. Whatever you decide, be consistent. I never use the four-dot ellipsis. I feel as though an ellipses shows that my character's thought is trailing off. And extra period to tell the reader that the end of the paragraph is there seems redundant to me. But my publisher added some into my latest manuscript edits. They're the publisher, and they're allowed to do things a certain . . . .
Dashes and ellipses ever confuse you? Any other questions about these little fellows?