Why would it do that? Did the original dash feel inadequate? Is it compensating for something? Are there deeper-seated self-esteem issues at work here?
Maybe it's time to dish on the dash.
Pinkie Rating: 4
First of all, dashes actually do come in multiple flavors. Let's round up some dash-shaped kitties and take a look at two of the more common types.
The shorter of the two, it's called an "en dash" because it's traditionally the same length as the letter "n". We use it all the time!
In the above example, the en dash serves as a sort of shorthand for "and." Similarly:
The Glass–Steagall Act
Father–son quality time
We also use en dashes to show a range of values (often numbers).
In these cases, we tend to read the en dash as "to."
The Packers beat the Steelers, 35–21.
The 3:30 Tucson–Albuquerque flight
The $75,000–$85,000 tax bracket.
A successful day care–primary school transition*
*notice how the two things this dash connects, "day care" and "primary school," are formed from two words, which aren't hyphenated. These are called open compounds, and an en dash is a good way to connect them.
In short, en dashes are generally used to show ranges, connections, and relationships between items.
If you're thinking that maybe this is called an em dash because it's the width of an "m" character, you are on the trolley! It's bigger, and it's usually used to connect bigger elements - phrases and whole sentences, rather than individual words and numbers.
In this example, the em dash moves us from general information to something more specific: the second item is a paraphrasing, summary, or definition of the first one. Notice too how that second item wouldn't be able to stand on its own. Em dashes should not join two complete sentences. You lazy kids today, always slapping your sentences together with chewing gum and em dashes. Pull up your pants, get off my lawn, and use a conjunction or a semi-colon!
I tell you what you can do, though: you can also use em dashes the same way you would use a matched pair of commas or parentheses.
You see how the information between the dashes is
1. deletable (we could cut it out and have a complete, sensible sentence)
2. place-sensitive (it's got to sit right next to its launch-point in the main sentence)
and 3. a separate, sort of off-topic remark.
I abuse the hell out of em dashes for exactly this purpose. Why stop to have a complete, coherent thought when you can stuff a second one inside the first, like some kind of magnificent grammatical turducken?
Lastly, a word about spaces and substitution. Used as above, em dashes generally don't have a space on either side (because goodness knows they're taking up enough real estate as it is!) You may be in the habit of using or seeing other people use " – " (en dash set off by spaces) instead of "—" (em dash, no spaces). That totally works, as long as you do it consistently. As near as I can tell, it's a pop/soda/Coke thing: different regions have different practices; the important thing is that you don't go bananas with it. Like delicious fizzy sugar-juice, these jumbo dashes are best served in moderation.
Oh, and if you were wondering: no, the en dash isn't a hyphen. Don't get depressed: stick around for H and we'll talk about it!
The Punctuation Guide - En Dash
The Punctuation Guide - Em Dash
Many thanks to today's GrammatiCats!
1. Firefly, courtesy of Jarret O.
2. Firefly (again!)
3. Polo, courtesy of Jarret O. (does this guy take great cat-snaps or what?!)
4. Smudge, courtesy of Dr. C.
(Does your kitty want to be a GrammatiCat? Sign up here!)