On the use of em dashes. Is it better to omit the spaces between the words and the dash, or is it preferable to separate them with spaces instead?

For example:

  • No spaces: It's time to take a nap—a long nap.
  • With spaces: It's time to take a nap — a long nap.

I've seen both used by good writers — but personally I prefer putting spaces. I'm wondering what are the experts opinion regarding the matter.

P.S. And, most of the time, I use three hyphens in place of it (---), which isn't usual, to my knowledge.

  • Thanks what. Regarding what you said, I guess it's important to realize that there are still platforms/devices out there that only support ASCII. And to tell you the truth, I only found out that en- and em-dashes exist this year — the year I started blogging. Before, they look like hyphens (or long hyphens) to me. Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 4:11
  • Duplicate? english.stackexchange.com/questions/9070
    – Fortiter
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 9:57
  • Just for fun: --- is the code for a proper em dash in LaTeX, don't know if you use it to write, but I love it :)
    – CLockeWork
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 11:23
  • For added confusion, in British English we generally use an en-dash with spaces where the Americans use an em-dash (with or without spaces).
    – evilsoup
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 11:37

2 Answers 2


As always, the golden rules: be consistent; do what your style guide tells you to do.

For example, Chicago Style dictates that you must not have spaces before and after the em dash, while AP Style dictates that you should have spaces before and after, except when used to introduce items in a vertical list. (See this article for more information.)

If you are not using a style guide, my advice would be for the spaces. By not putting in spaces, it almost makes the two words on either sides joined, like they're hyphenated, which can be disconcerting. I find the extra spaces to improve readability, but I don't have any proof to support that, just my personal preference.

  • 1
    Thanks for your insight Craig. I feel the same way with putting spaces between words and em dashes. I was just confused because of the different ways writers use it online. Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 20:36
  • 3
    Spaces for em-dash. No spaces for hyphen. These two are often hard to discern visually otherwise, but they have much-different functions – one connects words, the other splits clauses, so the distinction is quite important.
    – SF.
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 14:47

No spaces is the best usage of the mutton.

1.The dog ran outside—and promptly shat in the yard.


2.The dog ran outside -- and promptly shat in the yard.


3.The dog ran outside — and promptly shat in the yard.

All are correct.

The -- was for "back in tha day" when computers could not render — properly. We have modern browsers and JavaScript so editors need to chill. Using — is ok.


  • -1 for poor word choice (mutton + profanity).
    – DougM
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 0:54
  • How is mutton a poor word choice, it is called a mutton.
    – John Moore
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 19:26
  • Do you have a link for that? It's, at the least, uncommon.
    – DougM
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 19:41
  • It predates computers. It is the original name for the em dash. - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dash#Em_dash and here - thefreedictionary.com/mutton+quad
    – John Moore
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 0:27
  • Neither of your links support your assertion. Wikipedia has it in quotes, and TFD notes "mutton" as an alternate name for "em", back in the days when printers like Benjamin Franklin had to manually set type.
    – DougM
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 1:46

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