Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Wow. You know those times when you are certain you are right? You KNOW you are right. OF COURSE you are right. You have been 100% correct all this time. You are right, right, right.

Then you discover you were wrong.

Ouch (ego). Gulp (sheepish grin). Oops (dumb ass).

Apparently, I have been incorrectly adding spaces on either side of my em dashes throughout my entire typographical career. Today I learned this is wrong. I really don’t like the look of an em dash without the spaces, but as long as I know that is the correct typography, I will comply—and adapt. Yuck.

Here’s a quick lesson to set the record straight.
Hyphens: Used both to join words and to separate syllables, such as “sister-in-law”.

En dash: Used instead of “through” or “to”, such as “The New York–London flight is seven hours.” Also, “6–10 years”, read as “six to ten years”. When used to indicate a duration of time, a space is added on either side, such as 1:30 – 3pm.

Em dash: Indicates a pause. Can be used in place of commas, semi-colons, colons, parenthesis. No spaces on either side!

Further details and guidelines can be found on Wikipedia’s Dash page.
Other typographical errors that send me reeling:
  • Using a foot mark ( ' ) instead of an apostrophe, or single quotation mark ( ‘ or ’ )
  • Using an inch mark ( " ) instead of a double quotation mark ( “ or ” )
  • Double spaces after a period.
  • Using multiple periods—and often more than three—instead of an ellipse ( … )
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
On a personal note, Quinn is feeling much better today. I am tear-stained after a blow-out with my Mother. Now THAT doesn’t happen very often.


  1. Waitasec. I have a question about the double space after a period thing. As in it drives you nuts when it's there, or when it's not? My MSc supervisor made me go through my ENTIRE thesis draft and put double spaces in. What a pain!

    For the record, I think there should be spaces on either side of an em dash. And thththtthbt on Wiki!

    (Oh, and hi by the way!)

  2. Hi Melanie!

    Double spaces after a period go back to the days of manual typesetting. It is my understanding, that since the inception of computerized word processing, where letter spacing is done automatically within each typeface, we have no longer needed to add the extra space.

    There seems to be varying opinions on this however (Google "double space after a period"), so in this case it tends to boil down to personal preference.

    And yes, I so prefer a space on either side of the em dash. Seems more elegant that way, and logical considering it is a pause between two thoughts, and not joining two words. Argh.

    Thanks for reading!

    PS: Have you subscribed yet?

  3. Just to confuse the issue. CP style used in many newspapers, does, in fact, put spaces on either side of the em-dash. I know Canadian style says no spaces... alas. I like spaces too.

  4. Well, that's all I needed to hear. Thanks, Nat! The ‘no spaces rule’ has been driving me cuckoo!

    Can you offer a link to support the CP style guidelines?

    Thanks for reading!

  5. I work for a custom publisher, and some of our clients want spaces around em-dashes and others don't. I think the AP says not to use spaces, though.

    Thanks for your comment on my blog!!