Most chivalrous punctuation mark ever: The em dash

Are you using the em dash—also known as a long dash—correctly? Are you even using it at all? The author explains why and how you should employ it.

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With this in mind, I would name the em dash as the most chivalrous punctuation mark of all time.

As I often explain to punctuation newbies, em dashes (or long dashes) are used to indicate a pronounced interruption or break in thought. They should be used sparingly and only when another punctuation mark (such as a comma or colon) will not suffice. For example:

• Em dashes can be used when you want to introduce additional information in a sentence, but you don’t want to set it off with commas or parenthesis. “My piano teacher—an exceptionally patient woman—was visibly agitated by my ham-fisted playing.”

• Em dashes can also be used to separate a pronoun from what it refers to. “Mr. Harris is the perfect gentleman—articulate, charming, and handsome.”

• Em dashes can also be used to convey a more emphatic aside. “Your brother—no matter what he says—cannot make you unconscious just by looking at you.”

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