Em Dash–Punctuation potential packed in pauses


Jacob Tutterow

Don't call it overuse. Emily Dickinson's trademark punctuation mark deserves respect--right up there with end punctuation hogs exclamation marks and periods.

Jacob Tutterow, Copy editor

The em dash—one of the hallmarks of punctuation—constitutes the only punctuation needed besides the period—contrary to what most say. Most forget about the simple punctuation mark—missing what can actually make writing exciting to read. The em dash found its roots before printing presses—possibly even before English—but never reached its full potential usefulness—until recently.

Writing without the em dash—while seemingly easier and more simple—brings papers and books down intellectually. We all need the em dash—whether we know it or not. The beauty of the em dash—separating dependent clauses—forges sentences with great suspense. It carries knowledge in a sentence in a unique way—without affecting the build up or pacing of a passage. Knowing when to use it hardly matters—commas and semicolons become nullified when using em dashes.

The greatest strength of the em dash—providing information in short clauses—allows readers to digest what the sentence contains in a more pleasing manner. It forms a powerful and punchy sentence—one readers do not take lightly. It takes a special sentence to not need an em dash—commas only make a sentence sound weak and ineffectual.

The comma—a worthless pseudo-period—does not deserve the widespread use it receives in contemporary writing. The comma does provide a particular use—to break up a sentence into more digestible pieces—but an em dash does the same thing—with a little added flair. The only legitimate use—lists—appears in certain cases and other punctuation can function the same way—such as the bullet point. The only other marks needed—those that actually end sentences—stray far from the sins a comma commits.

Without the hallmark of structuring a sentence—the English language would seem lost. Em dashes control the words around it—and look amazing and professional in the same breath. Never feel afraid to use one—it might just add that extra “umph” your writing needs to receive recognition.

April Fool’s, you fools!


The Chant