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The great emdash debate.

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OK, so I've edited my document.  However - this is my second manuscript I've had edited - I've come up with a bit of a conundrum.


Some used double-dashes ("--") for sentence breaks, while others use am emdash for the same break.


Thoughts, anyone?

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In theory, most ... some writing programs will automatically replace a double hyphen with an em dash. MS Word does. This site does not --. Open Office does. Otherwise, you have to use a code to construct the em dash.


According to authority.com, a PC with a numerical keypad wants Alt+0151. (An en dash, which is between an em dash and a hyphen, wants Alt+0150.) 

Without a numerical keypad (as in most laptops), search through the insert symbols or find one in a document and copy it into yours or type 2014, hold down the Alt key, and type "x" (without the quotation marks). According to https://authority.pub/how-to-type-em-dash/, that actually works. (2013 for an en dash.)


For a Mac, Shift+Option+hyphen or Command+M writes an em dash. Option+hyphen yields an en dash. (Command+M didn't work on this site on my MacBook Pro. Instead, this page disappeared!) Here's the em dash created by Shift+Option+hyphen (—). I have to remember that for future reference on this site.


To simplify the copy and paste process, find an em dash somewhere, copy it into a document (with or without explanation), and save it to your desktop with a name that you will remember--like "em dash." Then you don't have to search for one each time.


Hope this helps.


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According to https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/78411/whats-the-double-hyphen-after-greetings-in-emails, the double dash/hyphen is a substitute for the em dash. Typewriters did not have a long dash (so why did the long dash exist then?), according to one answer. 


It makes sense that people who work with programs that do not autocorrect a double hyphen with a long dash would use the double hyphen.

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7 hours ago, carolinamtne said:

(so why did the long dash exist then?)


It gets even worse. There are two "long " dashes: the em-dash, and the en-dash and the AP and CMOS style guidelines have different rules for how they are to be used. Some style guidelines have less to do with English punctuation rules, than for making the final typeset text look pleasing and readable. This is especially true in rules concerning the use of the dashes.  AP is more optimized for typesetting the narrow columns of newspapers, while CMOS is more optimized for book pages (and is more likely to be the style required by book publishers...)


There'd have been no point in putting any more dashes than the hyphen on a typewriter, as they lacked the proportional spacing and kerning that the more sophisticated typesetting equipment used by publishers had to have. They needed to pack the print more economically. If all three dashes were put into a typewriter, with fixed character spacing, it wouldn't even have been easy distinguishing between them, and would have looked kinda' odd.


We forget, because we can essentially do complete typesetting on a modern computer. But the old, manual typewriters were just crude printer-approximations, with limited characters, where writers needed to use special "signals" (like the double hyphen) in order to cue the typesetters as to how the actual text was to be set on the published page.

Edited by Wes B
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I use two hyphens for the same reason I use plain quote marks, (versus "smart quotes.") It's easier for the agent/publisher to notice. 


I figure the worse that can happen is someone tells me to fix it. Find/replace still works.


(Okay, I do think Chicago Manual suggested that one back when I had to check how many grammar rules worked.)

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On 11/7/2021 at 3:25 AM, PenName said:

If you're interested in the stylistic rules for double dash vs. emdash, @Claire Tucker might know.

It's pretty much what @carolinamtne said—it depends on the writing program and how it renders the double dash. MS Word and Scrivener replace the double dash with an em dash. But since I learned the alt codes for en and em dashes, I just use those instead.

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