em-dash versus ellipses

When to Use Em-Dashes vs Ellipses


Dear Editor…

I’m always confused about when to end a sentence with — or . . .

Please help!
Wanna Geddit Rite

Dear Wanna Geddit Rite…

The choice of em-dash (—, which is the length of the letter “m” in the whatever font you’re using) versus ellipses ( . . . ) at the end of a sentence can be confusing. In a nutshell:

EM-DASH: Use for an interruption or a similarly abrupt cut-off. It can feel startling, even rude or cruel, as it chops a statement mid-sentence: “I wish I—” There’s drama in this punctuation choice. Used too often, it can overwhelm readers.

ELLIPSES: Use when a thought or sentence trails off gently into the sunset, “I wish I . . . ” If you’ve got a full sentence before the trail-off, insert sentence-ending punctuation right up against the last word of the sentence: “I wish I could dance. . . .”  

I admit to being an em-dashaholic. I love the drama of that simple line. To cope with my obsession, I’ve learned to let the em-dashes fly in early drafts, then I strip them out in late revision. I’m aim to entertain readers, not overwhelm them.

Happy writing!
The Editor

The Editor, Deborah Halverson, has been editing books for over 25 years and specializes in Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For her editorial guidance in making your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publishing, click Editorial services. Learn more in her books: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies and Writing New Adult Fiction.