In using the em-dash, where do you put the spaces? Which of the following is correct?

One space before:

School is based on the three R’s —reading, writing, and ’rithemtic.

One space after:

School is based on the three R’s— reading, writing, and ’rithemtic.

Spaces on both sides:

School is based on the three R’s — reading, writing, and ’rithemtic.

  • 7
    Either use two spaces or no spaces. There are publications that use both styles, but very few use spaces on just one side. Mar 2, 2014 at 13:24
  • 1
    Why wouldn't you simply use the colon here? Poor colon. Never gets invited to any grammar parties.
    – Tim Ward
    Jan 26, 2016 at 2:43
  • FWIW, a "thin space" is often used (on each side of the em dash).
    – Drew
    Dec 29, 2016 at 16:51

3 Answers 3


If we can trust Grammar Girl's thoroughness of search, then her advice is sound:

Every style guide I checked, except the AP Stylebook, stated there should be no spaces between an em-dash and the adjacent words. That means it is a style choice. If you're writing for a newspaper, magazine, or website that uses Associated Press style, put in the spaces. Otherwise, leave them out.


School is based on the three R’s—reading, writing, and ’rithemtic.

That said, em dashes are often substituted with en dashes in British English, and these are spaced when used parenthetically:

School is based on the three R’s – reading, writing, and ’rithemtic

(Also, some British English guides are more or less strict about the use of the serial comma – the above sentence may be seen as: "[...] reading, writing and ’rithemtic").

  • I can never remember the codes, so I use —. But this doesn't display in comments. Mar 2, 2014 at 14:38
  • @StoneyB I believe in that case using a double en dash is an acceptable alternative. Many systems will automatically sub an em dash for the double dash, anyway. I can do it from my iPhone ––, but that might be hard encoded.
    – David M
    Mar 2, 2014 at 14:41
  • Depending upon your computer, it can be easy to access alternative characters. On the Mac and iPhone for instance, holding down the hyphen key gives a pop-up with multiple dash options including the em dash and en dash.
    – David M
    Mar 2, 2014 at 14:53
  • I just tried — Unfortunately it just comes out looking like an endash :(
    – nxx
    Mar 2, 2014 at 14:53
  • I've just posted a "TEMPORARY" answer with —, –, − and an ordinary hyphen. In this face (Georgia) I see no difference between – and −, but the others are distinct. The em- and en-dashes are not so distinct as I would like, but that's a problem with the face. Mar 2, 2014 at 15:05

These two are correct:

School is based on the three R’s — reading, writing, and ’rithemtic. (Space on each side.)

School is based on the three R’s—reading, writing, and ’rithemtic. (Or: no spaces.)

  • 4
    The total width of a dash (including surrounding space) shouldn't generally exceed one em. A spaced en dash is OK (especially if you use a thin space), but a spaced em dash is too much. Mar 3, 2014 at 5:49

I agree with the answers that—

  • one should either use a space before and after an em-dash or no space around the em-dash and
  • one's stylebook is the final authority to decide if there should be a space before and after an em-dash or no space around the em-dash.

But going by the way how a text, when typed in a word file, goes to the next line, I would argue that there should be no space around the em-dash. Just suppose, how a text would look like when the text goes to the next line after we put a space before or after an em-dash:

xxx xxxxx xxxx x xxxxx xxxx xxx xxx xxx xxxx xxx xxx xxx xxx. School is based on the three R’s — reading, writing, and ’rithemtic.

In the example above, "R's" and the three items ("reading, writing, and ’rithemtic") that elucidate "R's" constitute a single unit. In the example above, because of the space, the unit breaks and the readability is impaired when "R's" remains in the preceding line and the three items go to the next line. Worse still, the second line in the example starts with no word but a punctuation mark, em-dash. In fact, in the example above, the spaces around "R's" result in a utter disconnect between the two parts of the unit and take away continuity of the reading.

None of the above problems will, however, come, if the spaces around the em-dash are removed.

  • Using the behavior of Word is a bad argument because a) the developers of Word have no particular authority over style; b) there are ways to enforce certain behavior, i.e. with a non-breaking space (and perhaps other sensible defaults can be set in Word, IWNK).
    – awe lotta
    Dec 16, 2023 at 21:34

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