I have always use the hyphen when introducing dialogue.

-I love skating, but I'm not very good at it.

But I have recently been educated about the existence and use of en/em dashes. Now, I think I got a grip on the basics, but I actually didn't find anything on using them as dialogue introductions. So, what is correct, a hyphen, an en dash or an em dash? Here's all of them lined up, in case you haven't seen them all.

-

Also, a little side question. Is it normal, and acceptable to use hyphens and dashes as dialogue starters? I'm not looking solely for your individual opinions, as that is off-topic, but rather numbers on what the majority prefers.

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  • Nope. Start the sentence with a Capital Letter. Use "quotes" if you are quoting someone. If you want to divert during the sentence, there are various ways, such a dashes, commas, parentheses. Using a kind of dash to start a sentence looks like a foible. However in forums such as this, and in letters etc, you can use bullet points, but avoid making a letter too staccato. – Weather Vane Jun 22 at 20:23
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    In English usage, dialog goes in quotation marks (" " or ' '), in preference to preceding dashes. In other languages such as French, preceding dashes are the norm, as, for example: --Qu'est-ce que se passe, dit il ("What's going on," he said.) – tautophile Jun 22 at 20:30
  • @tautophile gives a textbook example of English dialogue ("You are correct," she replied.). That’s how I leaned to punctuate dialogue in school. – Pam Jun 22 at 20:45
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    I agree that you would normally use quotes. However, if you had to use a non-standard symbol (I wouldn't, unless you can provide a good example for it) use an em dash rather than a hyphen or en dash. The latter two have specific uses that don't apply. – Jason Bassford Jun 22 at 20:58
up vote 2 down vote accepted

According to the Wikipedia article "Quotation mark" (section "Quotation dash"):

The Unicode standard introduced a separate character U+2015 ― HORIZONTAL BAR to be used as a quotation dash. In general it is the same length as an em-dash, and so this is often used instead. The main difference between them is that at least some software will insert a line break after an em dash, but not after a quotation dash.

So from a typographical perspective, the em dash seems to be standard. I agree with what Jason Bassford said in a comment:

[The hyphen and the en dash] have specific uses that don't apply.

In formats where it is not possible to use an em dash character, a double hyphen is often used as a substitute.

If you must use something other than quotation marks for dialog, here is The Chicago Manual of Style (17th ed.) 6.91:

Em dashes are occasionally used instead of quotation marks to set off dialogue (à la writers in some European languages). Each speech starts a new paragraph. No space follows the dash.

—Will he obtain the necessary signatures?
—Of course he will!

As for the normal introduction to dialogue, here is Chicago 13.39:

Direct discourse or dialogue is traditionally enclosed in quotation marks. A change in speaker is usually indicated by a new paragraph, as in the following excerpt from Huckleberry Finn:

       “Ransomed? What’s that?”
       “I don’t know. But that’s what they do. I’ve seen it in books; and so of course that’s what we’ve got to do.”
      “But how can we do it if we don’t know what it is?”
      “Why, blame it all, we’ve got to do it. Don’t I tell you it’s in the books? Do you want to go to doing different from what’s in the books, and get things all muddled up?”

If one speech (usually a particularly long one) occupies more than a paragraph, opening quotation marks are needed at the beginning of each new paragraph, with a closing quotation mark placed at the end of only the final paragraph.

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