Opinion: parenthetical dashes

Last week we discussed the use of serial commas. I was slightly surprised to find the poll currently shows that 60% of respondents agree with my stance – I thought the ‘always use serial commas’ camp would win it. The poll is still open if you would like to join in.

Dash2My blog’s style sheet is beginning to take shape, but I have another style decision to put to you:

Do you prefer parenthetical content to be marked by en rules or em rules? (If you have opted for dashes instead of commas or brackets.)

My preference is to mark it with spaced en rules like this:

The paint – a horrible shade of green – dripped on the carpet.

But it is also common to mark it with closed up em rules like this:

The paint—a horrible shade of green—dripped on the carpet.

I think spaced en rules look cleaner, and many British publishers use them. However, most US publishers use closed up em rules.

What do you think? It’s poll time! (Please vote – it makes me happy.)


  • New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide

12 thoughts on “Opinion: parenthetical dashes

    • I’ve had a (very) quick skim of the reference books next to my desk and it does seem that British styles tend to prefer the open en while American styles tend to prefer the closed em. There are exceptions though – Oxford style prefers the closed em. I love discussions like this because style is often very personal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I spent many years as a thesis and dissertation formatter and not only did we use the major academic style guides (Chicago/Turabian, MLA, APA), but minor guides as well (sciences, engineering). Many a discussion among my office mates was about the differences in just this kind of thing. And not something anyone in my social or personal life could get excited about! So I love this, too!!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I know it’s probably wrong, but I always do “The paint- a horrible shade of green- dripped on the carpet”. Closed on one side, open on the other.


  2. Another one hadn’t occurred to me, but I’ve voted for ‘en’ because it does look neater, and will use this in future.
    Thanks again for this info.


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