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Usually an em dash is used without any spaces on either side, especially when the punctuation is in the middle of a sentence. However, how should it be used if it were used at the end, such as when it's signifying that the first sentence is being interrupted/cut off?

Should there be a space after the dash because a sentence is starting anew and the two should be kept separate?

An example:

Naturally, I've already arranged for a backup plan to help those who have been overwhelmed by stress— Since the virtual sandbox is a simulated practice environment, you can leave from any area of it.

Another example:

What a pain, I wish I were NEETing it up at home— Hm, that's exciting. I think I have some inspiration now.

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    Why are you using em-dashes here instead of ellipses…?
    – Laurel
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 13:42
  • I was reading and this was how it appeared in the text. I get that an ellipsis would probably be more convenient/appropriate, but I'm interested to see how the em dash would be applied since the writer appears to have used it.
    – user483019
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 13:44
  • I'd use a period thereabouts. It's hard to justify some writer's peculiar style. Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 13:44
  • What if the sentence was actually cut off? In that case the period wouldn't really fit, would it? "What a pain, I wish I were NEETing it up at ho— Hm, that's exciting. I think I have some inspiration now."
    – user483019
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 13:47
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    These make no sense. Are you interrupting yourself here? Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 13:51

3 Answers 3

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At least with regard to the second instance that the poster asks about—

What a pain, I wish I were NEETing it up at home— Hm, that's exciting. I think I have some inspiration now.

The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010) does provide relevant guidance, although it does so rather indirectly. In the poster's example, the interjection "hm" is a pause-to-reflect speech marker, not a syntactical element per se. If we remove it from consideration temporarily, we have this construction:

What a pain, I wish I were NEETing it up at home— that's exciting. I think I have some inspiration now.

Section 6.83 of Chicago addresses this type of construction:

6.83 Em dash between noun and pronoun. An em dash is occasionally used to set off an introductory noun, or a series of nouns from a pronoun that introduces the main clause.

Consensus—that was the will-o'the-wisp he doggedly pursued.

Broken promises, petty rivalries, and false rumors—such were the obstacles he encountered.

Darkness, thunder, a sudden scream—nothing alarmed the child.

Kingston, who first conceived the idea; Barber, who organized the fundraising campaign; and West, who conducted the investigation—those were the women who were responsible for the movement's early success.

Viewing the poster's second example as a member of this family of constructions in which a pronoun follows one or more nouns and "introduces the main clause," we might fit the example into the same punctuation framework as follows:

What a pain, I wish I were NEETing it up at home—that's an exciting thought. I think I have some inspiration now.

Or, restoring the temporizing 'hm':

What a pain, I wish I were NEETing it up at home—hm, that's an exciting thought. I think I have some inspiration now.

This construction will look odd to some readers because they more frequently see solitary (as opposed to paired) em dashes "used to indicate sudden breaks in thought or sentence structure or an interruption in dialogue," as Chicago section 6.84 puts it. Nevertheless, employing an em dash to link a pronoun that begins "the main clause" following an introductory noun, or series of nouns or entire thought is simply a different category of accepted (by Chicago) em dash use.

What section 6.83 of Chicago doesn't explicitly say—but clearly indicates in all of its included examples—is that (1) there should not be a letter space following the em dash, and (2) the initial word following the em dash should not be capitalized. In accordance with these implicit imperatives, if I were forced to retain the exact wording of the poster's example and the em dash, I would punctuate it as follows:

What a pain; I wish I were NEETing it up at home—hm, that's exciting. I think I have some inspiration now.

As for the poster's first example—

Naturally, I've already arranged for a backup plan to help those who have been overwhelmed by stress— Since the virtual sandbox is a simulated practice environment, you can leave from any area of it.

—I can't offer any justification for using an em dash instead of either a period or a colon to separate the two sentences/thoughts there.

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  • I should perhaps acknowledge that all four of Chicago's examples involve use of a subject fragment, not a complete sentence, before the pronoun that begins the "main clause"—but I don't see any reason to forbid extending the same logic to a sentence that begins with a clause that could stand on its own as a whole sentence: "People want to know how to use em dashes correctly—that's an encouraging state of affairs."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 19:21
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I think the answer is simple: when and if you want to use the em-dash between sentences you have to write as you wrote in your example, but at the end of the phrase you could use without space.

I answered this kind of reply because in Italian you are forced to put space in any case, before and after the em-dash and always, so the only thing I can say about it, it's to follow the internet rules and the languages rules.

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Jul 4, 2023 at 15:19
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Using the em-dash in this manner is idiosyncratic. If you really were interested in how an author is using punctuation in this manner, then you would have to look carefully to see if there is any pattern in the text's punctuation (the sorts of statements the em-dash terminates or the kind of statements that appear on either side of it, or if it concatenates many statements in sequence), and if there is any such pattern, whether it illuminates the text.

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