Add to My MSN

Down with the Em-Dash; Long Live the Semicolon!

5/7/2009 4:55:05 PM

Tags: Great Writing, grammar, semicolons, em-dashes, Standpoint

Writers overuse the em-dash—that all too convenient of punctuation marks. By employing the em-dash too often—whether out of laziness or a lack of creativity—they neglect the simple pleasures of the semicolon. Lionel Shriver writes for Standpoint:

These days, the semicolon exudes an aura of the fusty, the fastidious, and the defunct; of mildewed stacks, tight hair buns, and prissily sharpened pencils; of hesitancy, diffidence, and uncertainty, in contrast to the em-dash, which exudes a spirit of strength, flair, and decisiveness.

Related Content

A Guide for Literary Pilgrims

There's a new online resource for those who visit—and plan to visit—the houses of great writers....

Enduring Infatuations (of the Writerly Sort)

In a delightfully “gigantic, sloppy fan letter,” The Stranger’s books editor Paul Constant recalls h...

Mapping the F#@% Out of a Sentence

Linguistically, curse words can be both versatile and confusing....

A Golden Moment for Lyrics

It’s a “vintage year for writerly U.S. bands,” reports the Guardian. Over in the United Kingdom, “a ...

Content Tools

Post a comment below.


Tony Hightower
5/15/2009 10:54:35 AM
Love the comments; as someone who doesn't typically make a distinction between the em-dash and the en-dash -- in an online context it's hard to tell the difference, unless they're side-by-each, which doesn't happen unless you contrive a situation -- this is little more than a kitten-fight: harmless and cute to watch.

Rayne Johnson
5/13/2009 7:59:21 AM
Oh my GOD...are you people SERIOUS??

Tamara SM
5/12/2009 8:56:56 PM
Much as I adore Vonnegut, just because he wasn't comfortable with the semicolon doesn't mean it doesn't have its place. The semicolon obviously has a serious place in clear and concise communication, and the em-dash doesn't replace it at all. It really just replaces the comma.

5/12/2009 1:12:27 PM
The semicolon has never had a serious place clear and concise communication. Leave it for lawyers. The em-dash visually imparts what the voice would, a pause and separation modern readers immediately understand. Listen to Vonnegut.

Willie Wlizlo
5/9/2009 11:03:24 AM
Kurt Vonnegut on semicolons: "Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."

Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!