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I have seen style manuals suggest that there be no space between emdash and the surrounding words.

The following NY times article has spaces in the first sentence:

"An expression of concern by the environmental group Greenpeace about the carbon footprint was marred this week by real footprints — in a fragile, and restricted, landscape near the Nazca lines, ancient man-made designs etched in the Peruvian desert."

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/13/world/americas/peru-is-indignant-after-greenpeace-makes-its-mark-on-ancient-site.html?ref=science

This despite there being an article in the same Ny times suggesting no space. What is correct?

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/22/mad-dash/

First, make the thing the right way. There are a few ways to do it, but generally, on a keyboard, you can do as follows: previous word/no space/two hyphens/no space/following word. Word-processing programs turn the two hyphens into an unbroken line that’s roughly the width of a capital “M” — hence the official name of this punctuation mark, the em-dash. (Some publications, including this newspaper, add spaces around dashes.)

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  • 2
    Do you really think it is all that important? Often, there are contradictory 'rules' for punctuation spelt out by different authorities. This proves that they are not really rules. If an authority you subscribe to recommends a certain style, follow that. Until you come under a different authority (eg change jobs or universities). Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 21:32
  • +1 Good pointer to the duplicate question. To the previous comment, the conflicting references in this case came from the same authority.
    – Joe Black
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 0:01
  • Why is this question relevant to ELU? Is em-dash usage unique to English?
    – SrJoven
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 0:57
  • Actually the NY Times is not suggesting no space around the em dash...it is only telling you how MS Word (and other word processors) create an em dash. Without saying so, once you get the em dash, they put spaces around them, per their style guide. (On the other hand, if you type the two hyphens with spaces around them, then an en dash is created.)
    – WesT
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 23:26

2 Answers 2

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Actually, the rules are fairly set on spaces before or after an "em-dash" -- you don't use them. If your style guide calls for spaces around a dash, you use a different character altogether, the "en-dash."

Wikipedia has a descent overview on dashes, especially noting the differnet ways to reflect either and em-dash or an en-dash.

  • An em-dash can be written using the old HTML keycode —, which looks as follows ( — ), or by using the express unicode key U+2014 ( — ).
  • An en-dash can be written using the old HTML keycode –, which looks as follows ( – ), or by using the express unicode key U+2013 ( – ).

The particulars of if you should include spaces or not around a dash may vary substantially by whatever style guide you are following. And the internet being largely free, you can no doubt find instances of em dashses surrounded by spaces or en dashes without.

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  • Thanks. I was trying to see how I can make en-dash on my PC and couldn't figure out how. What's the key for endash in text document?
    – Joe Black
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 23:59
  • ALT+0150 En Dash, Alt+0151 Em Dash. (Alt, then the numbers, including leading zero, from the numeric keypad). For more information, look at the Windows built-in applet "charmap".
    – SrJoven
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 1:03
  • @JoeBlack: The wikipedia article has the instructions, FWIW.
    – DougM
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 17:06
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According to the Canadian Style Guide, there should be no space before or after an em dash.

This is the rulebook I usually stick to for class work. Having said this, I have seen people add a space before and after the em dash with the justification that it makes the text appear less clumped. I can't argue with that. Just to be safe, however, I wouldn't use spaces.

I also agree with the others that it depends on the style guide.

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