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When using em dash in a sentence that runs to multiple lines, especially in poetry, can it be the last word of the continuous sentence? For example, let us consider the following Wordsworth poetry. (I have modified the formatting to help me explain my question better.)

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—
but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

Here in this example, is it okay to cut the line at gazed—?
I understand it doesn't look elegant; however, with respect to grammar, am I allowed to do so in case the situation demands it?

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  • Punctuation – especially in poetry – is a matter of style rather than grammar. There's no way to answer your question definitively, as any answer would have to take into account your personal writing style and the style preferences of your publisher. Ammu, in my own personal opinion your use of the em dash and the location of the line break are perfectly fine. Voting to close as answers will be opinion-based (it's also seeking help on your writing piece, which is itself grounds for closure). For guidance, see [question]. :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Feb 4 at 1:54
  • @ChappoHasn'tForgottenMonica Thanks. I agree. I don't see a link in your suggestion for my guidance. – Ammu Feb 5 at 1:04
  • Oh, sorry! I had a brain-fade when typing the text that the site autofills with a link - I should have typed "ask" instead of "question". Let me try that again: check out How to Ask. And while you're at it, I warmly recommend taking the site Tour – not only does it give you a quick snapshot of how Stack Exchange works, but completing the tour also rewards you with a bronze badge! ;-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Feb 6 at 7:15
  • @Ammu, for future reference, please do not post the same question to multiple Stack Exchange sites. – F1Krazy Feb 21 at 18:06
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Grammatically?
Yes, it's fine.

Wikipedia says:

In poetry, enjambment (/ɛnˈdʒæmbmənt/ or /ɛnˈdʒæmmənt/; from the French enjambement) is incomplete syntax at the end of a line; the meaning runs over from one poetic line to the next, without terminal punctuation. Lines without enjambment are end-stopped.

Basically, enjambment means to end the line with no or not-terminal punctuation before finishing the sentence on the next line.

So it is perfectly fine grammar to enjambment.

If you are specifically asking about the em dash in your enjambment, it is also fine because it is not terminal punctuation, meaning that the enjambment would still work.

You may consider switching out the em dash for a comma or semicolon if the em dash does not give the desired effect.

Personally, I like the em dash because it adds a more drawn-out feel and it adds a touch of drama to the continued sentence.

I understand it doesn't look elegant...

If the em dash is elegant or not is a mostly subjective topic but I would think that the em dash or a semicolon would be the most elegant. In the poem, the semicolon is already used so using it again would be more consistent.

Principally, if you are happy with the em dash as the end of your enjambment, then keep it.

If you ditch the whole enjambment thing and decide to end-stop, this is Wikipedia's definition for end-stopping:

An end-stopped line is a feature in poetry in which the syntactic unit (phrase, clause, or sentence) corresponds in length to the line. Its opposite is enjambment, where the sentence runs on into the next line. According to A. C. Bradley, "a line may be called 'end-stopped' when the sense, as well as the metre, would naturally make one pause at its close; 'run-on' when the mere sense would lead one to pass to the next line without any pause."

So to sum up, ending an unfinished poetic line with non-terminal punctuation (or no punctuation at all) is called an enjambment and it is grammatically correct for poetry.

Does this help?

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  • Thank you, @Nai45. The terms enjambment and end-stop are new to me although I have been using them in my work. From your reply, I understand that ending an unfinished poetic line with an em dash isn't grammatically wrong. I usually try to switch out em dash for a comma if it falls at the end of the line—just for the elegant look—and was wondering if using it was even allowed in the first place. – Ammu Feb 3 at 16:28
  • Good advice re enjambment. It's worth noting, however, that grammar is largely (some would even say entirely) independent of punctuation. you can start a sentence in lowercase, you can add silly punctuation!?!, but grammar relates to the choice and order of words, whereas punctuation is simply a guide to assist the reader, and is mostly a matter of style. This is most obvious when you consider how easy it is to detect the flaws in grammar for spoken English, despite the absence of punctuation. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Feb 6 at 7:31
  • @ChappoHasn'tForgottenMonica True. In this case, I am using it as an umbrella term to cover several technical areas. Normally, grammar and punctuation would be separate. – Nai45 Feb 6 at 15:22

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