The Ellipsis or the Em-Dash

Many writers are more familiar with the actual punctuation marks than with their names. The question is, when should we use … (ellipsis) and when — (em-dash)?

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, the ellipsis indicates “faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion or insecurity.” Here’s an example:

    “I thought you said … but wait, yesterday I’m certain I heard you promise … didn’t I?”

On the other hand, the em-dash (longer than the en-dash and the hyphen) indicates a sudden break or an interruption.

    “Don’t you walk out on me! I said, don’t—” The screen door banged shut, and his footsteps tatted down the stairs toward his car.

To remember the difference, I think of the three dots comprising the elipsis as slow: dot-pause, dot-pause, dot-pause. The em-dash, however, dashes in one straight, quick gesture.

Well, it works for me! 😉



Filed under Dashes, Ellipses, Punctuation

4 responses to “The Ellipsis or the Em-Dash

  1. I am writing about a writer who uses many em-dashes, and was wondering about the history of em-dashes. Was the em-dash first widely used in telegraphic — . — communications or earlier?

  2. Craig, I’m unfamiliar with the history of the mark. You might try Wikipedia. They often have information on that kind of thing.

  3. steve

    Thank you, that helps me a bunch!

  4. I appreciate the feedback, Steve.


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