Use parentheses to enclose information that clarifies or is used as an aside.

He gave me a check for my birthday ($100).

Periods go inside parentheses only if an entire sentence is inside the parentheses.

Please read the book. (You’ll be astounded.)


The em dash is the most versatile of all punctuation marks. It can be used instead of commas, semicolons, parentheses, or quotation marks. 

The em dash () sets off a word or clause and adds emphasis. Or, it can signal either an interruption or amplification of an idea.

You can put a space on both sides of it, as found in most newspapers, or leave a space following it. What matters is that you are consistent—throughout your article or book—to do it the same way each time. 

The em dash provides a more casual tone and look than a semicolon.

It can also be used to substitute for a missing word or words, such as swear words. However, personally, I use the ellipses (…) for this purpose.

Em dashes are also used as interruptors in sentences—mostly in blogs and digital content—to add a casual and conversational tone when writing online. They can be used to insert commentary on what is written, add a short joke or witty comment, or to add an example to your information. 

So, is there a battle going on between the parenthesis and the em dash? Perhaps even the semi-colon?

There doesn’t have to be.

Use whatever you are most comfortable with—but don’t overdo the use of any particular punctuation. They disrupt the reader’s train of thought.


A sprinkling here and there are permissible. And, authors often find using them to help with the flow of ideas when writing. 

Inquiring minds want to know:  Why is it called the “em dash”? It is the width of the letter M.

Ellipsis…or Em Dash-?

It seems I never think full, flowing thoughts anymore. My husband would add that I don’t speak in whole, fluid sentences, either!

This shows up in my writing, as my thoughts pour out in chunks, rather than a steady stream.  And, I think it is for this very reason, I have adopted using the ellipsis and the em dash.

My purpose, here, is to acquaint you with their various uses—though not in any way try to convince you to use them in your own writing—as some find them confusing and irritating—or so I am told.

The ellipsis, or …, indicates an unfinished thought, a pause, awkward silence, an echoing voice, or even a leading statement. (The aposiopesis is the use of an ellipsis to indicate the trailing off of a voice or noise into silence. For example, “But, I thought she’d…”)

The em dash is often used in place of a colon or parenthesis, showing an abrupt change in thought, to set apart definitions, show interruptions— by another speaker or self-interruption—contemplation or emotional trailing off, lengthy pauses, bleeps (as in censorship), substitutions, or where a series of commas have already been used in a given sentence.  (Much like the one I just wrote!)

So, if you tend to speak, think, or write in frequent spurts and stops, consider how much easier and quicker the writing process might be if you consider using the both the ellipsis and em dash.

I’m just saying…