I have come across a dash-spacing style that I haven't seen anywhere else, and I'm wondering where it may come from. The person who writes in this style asserts that he has learnt it in school in the UK.

Briefly on dash styles: Style manuals vary in how they recommend using dashes to separate interpolated phrases, the two most common appearing to be the spaced en-dash and the unspaced em-dash (see Wikipedia article Dash, and the questions Is it wrong to space en dashes and em dashes? and When should I use an em-dash, an en-dash, and a hyphen? on this site).

But the style I have come across is different and seems to have the following rules that are a mix of other rules I have seen:

  1. When a phrase is interpolated so that the main sentence continues, it is set off by the sequence "space, en-dash" in the beginning, and "en-dash, space" at the end.

    Example: This sentence –being an example– makes no sense.

  2. When a phrase is interpolated at the end of the main sentence, it is set off by the sequence "space, en-dash, space".

    Example: This sentence makes no sense – it is an example.

Has anyone come across this style before? Where could it originate from? Is the rule set above complete and correct for this style, and is there any rationale for the style?

  • You seem to be using interpolate in a way I have not seen. What do you intend interpolate to mean here?
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 7:57
  • @Jim: I use it in the sense "to insert between other things or parts" (as e.g. in the Merriam-Webster dictionary). It's also used in the same sense in the Wikipedia article Dash (linked in the question). Perhaps there is a better term for "interpolated sentence"? Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 8:49
  • It's not a sentence. "Interpolated phrase", "parenthetical phrase", perhaps?
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 9:02
  • @AndrewLeach: That is of course correct. I changed the question to say phrase instead of sentence. Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 9:14
  • This is out of scope (not to do with English syntax or semantics). It is an interesting question about typographical styles and might be welcome at Graphic Design.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Feb 28, 2013 at 15:03

2 Answers 2


I have certainly seen both these styles before — in others' writing, a little at school and from my mother, an English teach of 40 years.

It's just another handy way to break up a sentence and indicate to the reader how you would like it to flow.

I disagree that is less elegant than a semicolon as per the previous answer, it's just a personal preference.

The first sentence, although not the best choice to illustrate the fist case's use, simply provides emphasis around "being an example". I can now imagine how the person writing would have actually spoke the sentence. It reads to me like "This sentence, being an example, makes sense now".

The emphasis element doesn't apply in the second case, rather provides auxiliary information and would be read in the same tone as the main part of the sentence.


I have never encountered the style shown in number one. I consider it nonstandard, unnecessary, and distracting. I would suggest consistent dash length and spacing on either side of the middle section.

I have encountered the style shown in number two. It may not be strictly wrong, but I think a semicolon here would be somewhat more appropriate and elegant.

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