Posted by: Jack Henry | July 23, 2018

Editor’s Corner: Don’t Use Spaces with Dashes

Almost all American style guides, including the Chicago Manual of Style, say to use em dashes (which are as wide as the letter M) without spaces in sentences such as the following:

  • “My friends—that is my former friends—ganged up on me.”

In British English, it’s more common to use en dashes (which are as wide as the letter N) with a space on each side:

  • “My friends – wearing colourful pyjamas – ganged up on me.”

Newspapers such as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times use spaces around em dashes:

  • “My friends — according to sources familiar with the situation — ganged up on me.”

According to the AP vs. Chicago blog by editor Karen Yin, newspapers use spaces before and after em dashes to avoid awkward line breaks: “With newspaper columns, you cannot always control where the break comes at the end of the line. … Spaces around an em dash will allow it to break across two lines instead of dragging the words before it and after it to the next line.”

When writing a webpage, an email, or a single-column document, awkward line breaks aren’t a big consideration. Follow the Chicago Manual of Style, and don’t put spaces before or after an em dash.

Tip: Remember, in Microsoft® Word and Outlook®, if you type two hyphens (without spaces before or after), they’re automatically replaced with an em dash. Alternatively, you can hold down the Alt and Ctrl keys, and then press on the number pad.

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

Symitar Documentation Services

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