Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To EM or to DASH?

The EM Dash Verses the Ellipse

It has been awhile since I have had the leisure to blog again. When the harvesting season arrives in Nebraska, I raise my head up and take notice. When my farmer friends ask what I will be doing for the next month I never refuse to offer my help. I am not a “farmer” by trade and as such had to be taught all of the basics. Driving the big John Deer tractors is a hoot and this season I was shown how simple it was to run a combine with hydrostatic steering.

The days are long, hot and the rewards great. It is almost like being in the military; with the camaraderie and cold beer. The fields are empty now; only a golden splash of color covers the ground where waving Winter Wheat once stood. I am back to my writing and exploring better ways to improve my manuscripts

A few weeks ago I followed a discussion on LinkedIn on the use of the EM dash. The main article recommended the elimination of or minimal use of this wonderful grammar tool. After reading all of the comments I put it aside (see above) and thought about it for a while.

The EM dash has been available to the author since the first typewriter was invented. It was common practice to use two hyphens to represent an EM dash. The idea being that the width of the two hyphens corresponded to the width of the capital “M” on the typewriter’s keyboard. If you are using WORD to compose your manuscripts you can also use two hyphens ( -- ) or press the CTRL and ALT keys and then the minus sign on the numeric keypad ( — ). If you look at the above two hyphens you will note that they correspond to the width of a capital “M.” The digital age has changed the size of the EM dash—now it is longer.

The em-dash is used to indicate an interruption in speech or to emphasize a phrase. Examples include:

1) “What the—” erupted from Jen’s mouth.

The roar of a lion exploded in her mind, and her body froze in place.

2) Twenty-first birthdays are memorable events in every girl’s life—Jen’s was no exception—it was a complete disaster. NOTE: There is no space between the word letters that an EM dash separates. (…Life—Jen’s…).

The ellipsis is used to indicate a pause in speech, missing text or to slow the reader down—draw out the sentence.. Examples include:

1) “Well, I guess it will work for me. It might take some time. I...have to admit, it does make you look cuter,” he mumbled.

2) “I, Umennre, warn of the coming of the Swthshee. Heed my words...”

3) The eyes stared at her with deep foreboding, if they were trying to tell her something important, something scary and something urgent.

There are other uses of the EM dash and Ellipse. The above examples are ones you—as a writer—are apt to use in your own writing.

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