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I'm not a native English speaker, and the way American English texts typically use em-dashes without spaces to separate sentence parts seems very strange and even disruptive for me. For example:

"Some stuff—and some other stuff."

What I'm used to is

"Some stuff – and some other stuff."

(with en-dash), or perhaps (with em-dash)

"Some stuff — and some other stuff."

My question is: would it be very unusual/disruptive if one used either of the latter in an American English (literary) book?

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    Nitpick - it is em-dash and en-dash. Em and en are both units of length.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 16:09
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    All I care about is that writers use a real em-dash and not a hyphen. Spacing is a matter of personal (or publication) style. I've used style guides that mandate a space on each side and others that mandate no spaces.
    – user8356
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 20:49

3 Answers 3

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Yes. To Amercians used to the American typographic convention using an en dash with spaces will appear just as "wrong" as the em dash without spaces appears to you.

The same goes for quotation marks, punctuation, spelling, and other differences between British, American, and other varieties of English. As a non-native speakter, you should probably let a native speaker (of American English) copyedit your text before you self-publish it to an American audience. If you don't intend to self-publish, you shouldn't worry about these details at all. Your publisher will take care of them.

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Most major American style guides say that an em-dash must not be surrounded by spaces. However, there is one exception (that I know of):

AP (p. 368): An em dash, like an ellipsis, has a space before and after, except when used to introduce items in a vertical list.

  • When she called her cats — Chardonnay, Patron and Guinness — the neighbors came running.

Quoted from Em Dashes and Ellipses: Closed or Spaced Out?

I'm not sure if any American style guides suggest using en-dashes in this context, where em-dashes are traditionally used.

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There is nothing right or wrong, but thinking makes it so

In short, it doesn't matter. As the author, just write it as you are comfortable. Don't inhibit your creativity and expression by dissipating energy in meaningless trivia.

The type of market you target will determine the final answer. Publishers have style guides that their editors use. And, different publishers use different style guides. In English, there isn't one and only one correct answer. It's typography and that is the domain of the publisher. If you intend to self-publish, then it will be your problem, after you've finished the book.

As the author, just endeavor to be consistent. That will make the final fiddly copy-edit stages easier to complete. If you decide on just one rule regarding en-dashes or em-dashes and apply it rigorously, then the editor -- which may be you (if you are self-publishing) will be able to find and fix the usage according to the style guide they are told to us.

As a way of comment, inure yourself to worrying about minutia and petty-foggery of editing and focus all of your energy on writing a great story. When you've finished your work, and it is the best you can do -- in terms of story telling and the craft of writing -- then you can decide the next steps. Wasting your time with these worries - before you've completely finished your novel - is self-sabotage.

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