What is an Em Dash? (—)

Punctuation marks are unsung writing heroes, adding structure, clarity, and emphasis to our words. Among these, the em dash is a versatile and powerful tool for writers. In this blog post, we’ll explore what an em dash is, how to use it effectively, and common mistakes to avoid.

What is An Em Dash?

The em dash is a punctuation mark with various functions but is known for its ability to add emphasis, clarify meaning, and create a sense of continuity within a sentence. Derived from the length of the letter “M” in typography, the em dash serves multiple purposes in sentence structure and style.

Em Dash Examples

To understand the versatility of the em dash, let’s explore a few examples of its usage:

  • “She was determined to finish the race — no matter the obstacles — and she did.”
  • “The conference room was filled with chatter — laughter, debate, and the occasional burst of applause.”
  • “After hours of searching, he finally found it — the key to unlocking the mystery.”

In these examples, the em dash is used to add emphasis, set off parenthetical information, or indicate an abrupt interruption or break in thought.

How to Type an Em Dash

Typing an em dash may seem difficult at first, but several methods exist to insert it into your writing.

On most keyboards, you can use shortcuts such as:

  • “Alt + Shift + -” (on Windows) or
  • “Option + Shift + -” (on Mac).

Alternatively, you can use the character map tool on your computer or enable autocorrect features in word processing software to automatically replace double hyphens with em dashes.

Copy and Paste Em Dash

Use our copy and paste em dash here: —

5 Ways to Use Em Dashes in Your Writing

Here are five practical ways to use em dashes in your writing:

  1. Emphasize a point or phrase: “His decision—bold and unprecedented—shocked the entire industry.”
  2. Setting off parenthetical information: “The city — bustling with life and energy — never seemed to sleep.”
  3. Indicating abrupt interruptions or breaks in thought: “I was just about to leave when — wait! — I remembered I had forgotten my keys.”
  4. Replacing commas or colons for stronger punctuation: “She had only one request — to be left alone.”
  5. Creating smooth transitions between clauses: “His words were sincere — there was no doubt about that — but their impact was lost on her.”
Our Editor’s Take

I love using em dashes in my own poetry. They’re a useful punctuation tool that creates a natural pause. I use it to build up a setting or create tension. It’s also an easy tool for poetry beginners to utilize. – R. R. Noall

Common Em Dash Mistakes

Despite its usefulness, the em dash is often used incorrectly. Common mistakes include overusing it, failing to format it properly, or confusing it with other dashes. Remember to use em dashes sparingly and purposefully, ensuring they enhance rather than detract from your writing.

Em Dash FAQs

What is the difference between a hyphen, an en dash, and an em dash?

  • Hyphen (-): The hyphen is the shortest of the three marks and is primarily used to join compound words or hyphenated phrases, such as “well-known” or “twenty-one.”
  • En Dash (–): Slightly longer than a hyphen, the en dash is used to indicate ranges or connections between items, such as “pages 10–15” or “New York–London flight.”
  • Em Dash (—): The em dash is the longest of the three and serves various purposes, including setting off parenthetical information, indicating an abrupt change in thought, or emphasizing a particular phrase within a sentence.

Can an em dash replace a hyphen?

While the em dash and hyphen might appear similar, they serve different purposes in writing. The em dash is not typically used to join words or create compound terms like a hyphen does. However, in some informal writing or creative contexts, writers may use an em dash instead of a hyphen for emphasis or stylistic effect. Using em dashes judiciously and in line with accepted writing conventions is essential.

Can an em dash separate two sentences?

Yes, an em dash can separate two sentences, but it’s not its primary function. While a period or semicolon is typically used to separate complete sentences, an em dash can be employed in informal writing to create a stronger connection or indicate a more abrupt transition between the two clauses. However, it’s important to note that this usage might not always adhere to strict grammatical rules and should be used with caution, especially in formal writing contexts.


In conclusion, the em dash is a valuable tool for writers seeking to add clarity, emphasis, and style to their prose. Understanding its functions and mastering its usage can elevate your writing to new heights. Experiment with em dashes in your next piece of writing, and discover the impact they can have on your readers.

Happy writing!

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