In Ludwig Wittgenstein's writings, I often see long dashes (both em-dash, and one even longer, shown in red circles). I can sense (at least I believe I do—perhaps, from the writer's point of view, the two thoughts are tightly-connected, yet they have to be separate sentences) their function; but is there such a usage? Never seen any punctuation guide mentioning such a usage.

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  • It looks like a stylistic choice. The longer dashes are em dashes and the shorter one is an en dash.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 26, 2015 at 22:21
  • This does not look like traditional uses for a dash...it seems to be more of stylistic choice to add pauses. The dash is separating full sentences, almost taking the job of a period. Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 2:54
  • @Michael _timofeev: But the periods are there also. So Wittgenstein must have had some additional purpose than separating sentences. Maybe he felt he needed a separation stronger than a period, but short of a paragraph break—a "sub-paragraph" as it were. This still doesn't explain why he used a two-em dash in one paragraph and three-em dashes in the other paragraph. For all we know, it might involve a typesetting error or improvisation (e.g., perhaps the typesetter had only two three-em dashes in his case, and so couldn't set three of them on the same page.) Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 4:59
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    Irrespective of Wittgenstein’s intentions, I sometimes feel the need in my own writings. Here’s a hypothetical case: “In backgammon, simulations are used heavily, and often provide new insights.—What is the best move if you start with six-four? ...” Here, whether apparent or not, my intention is to make sure that the question is tightly connected with the preceding sentence.
    – blackened
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 12:00
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    @michael_timofeev I was going to add that option in my comment, but I was about to reach my character limit. I do not particularly enjoy a colon in the above example. The first sentence does not particularly hint that an explanation is coming. Anyhow, who is stop one from inventing his own style.
    – blackened
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 13:06

2 Answers 2


Understand that not too long ago everyone wrote stuff out in longhand. Certainly no computers, and, even if they existed, typewriters were reserved for use by secretaries and typists.

In longhand it's easy to develop a (personal) style (perhaps varying from one document to the next, or even within a document) where you use dashes of varying length to set aside parenthetical text, emphasize certain phrases, separate lines in a poem, indicate an elision, etc. Since the length of the dash is purely a matter of how far the pen moves on the paper, there is no motivation to standardize this, other than what ones headmaster may pound into ones head in school.

And pity the poor typesetter who must read the longhand scrawl and attempt to interpret its meaning. Typesetters would attempt to understand the intent of the markings and "standardize" it to some extent, but they could only do so much, especially when the author was fond of long, convoluted sentences.

So you are left to attempt to understand the markings yourself, perhaps based on "standard" usage, or perhaps throwing that out the window and developing a new interpretation.


dashes are used for some dashing(unusual, interrupt) information inside a sentence. However, it is a big one, and possibly, it may be used for a dashing information inside a paragraph-- i am not sure. (here i use dash)

dashing here i am using for unusual, interrupt; dashing for dashes is just memory trick for me.

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    You certainly dashed my brain.
    – blackened
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 12:14
  • @blackened - So did he dash any hope of increasing his reputation?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 12:28

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