Hey typography geeks!

What's your thought on spaces around em dashes?

I've always been of the opinion that em dashes shouldn't have spaces around them.

However, recently I've noticed that this doesn't work all that well in monospaced fonts (where em dashes, "—", are frequently not any longer than en dashes, '–").

And, many times (e.g., email) I don't know what font will be used. So I'm thinking about adding spaces as a general practice.


As both @kensanata and @wizzwizz4 point out, the correct answer is probably to drop em dashes entirely when writing for monospaced font and switch to en dashes surrounded by spaces. I think I'll go with that.

The only question that leaves is how to treat things like emails, toots, and git commit messages – with those, I don't have any clear way to know what fonts readers will use.

(Testing out the en-dash-plus-space approach above, and I'm not a huge fan, visually…)

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@codesections I use spaces, as an intentional concession to folks unfamiliar with the grammatical details.

@codesections I go back and forth. Often they look wrong to me without spaces, as I've never omitted the spaces, at least in academic writing. Makes me think of some of the older texts I've proofread for Distributed Proofreaders in the past, which don't have the spaces usually.

cc: @emacsomancer

@codesections a dirty compromise is to use two hyphens with no spaces

@codesections you’re asking a typographic style question but framing it in terms of what’s best for monospaced fonts, which is an interesting perspective! My take is, for this case, the distinction between en and em dashes isn’t important enough with monospace to support a case for surrounded em dashes with spaces. Personally, that’s a :yikes: from me, chief!

@codesections According to Wikipedia (the best style guide), use spaced en dashes or unspaced em dashes for parentheticals. My style is to always use spaced en dashes when monospace is involved.

@codesections I hate the variety of dashes. Just as I hate languages with rules for words' gender.

@codesections @kensanata @wizzwizz4 I'd rather (and I prefer) three consecutive dashes for em-dashes in plain text (and two for an en-dash).

Dashes with spaces surrounding them are, to me, an eye sore. That's subjective of course

But substituting an en-dash for an em-dash is confusing to anyone who knows which is which and irrelevant for anybody who doesn't. My own experience is that using an en-dash or dash w/ or w/o spaces for an em-dash can make text very hard to parse for me.

@codesections I always thought when anticipating a monospaced typeface best practice is to use two (or three?) hyphens in place of an em dash. I usually put a space after, but not before

@codesections the more I think about it the less I think an em (or en-) dash has any business being in a monospaced typeface to begin with. honestly it should be a ligature that renders as two hyphens

@codesections unless I'm overlooking something obvious, which is entirely possible


> the more I think about it the less I think an em (or en-) dash has any business being in a monospaced typeface to begin with. honestly it should be a ligature that renders as two hyphens

How would that work in practice? In your ideal world, someone reading their email in a monospaced font would see an em dash as two hyphens?

I'm not sure I like the idea of my font dropping info about the characters its rendering like that.

(Especially since character count would be different)

@codesections Hmmm. In the spirit of typographic clarity I'd suggest that two hyphens more accurately conveys the intent over a single hyphen, so yes I guess if I were to receive an email I'd prefer that em dashes display as two hyphens.

I have not though this completely through though, and the best/real answer is probably "it depends".

I like type a whole lot but sometime you just gotta go with people who call double prime marks "quotes" in the interest of expediency


Yeah, that all makes sense. I'm generally not a fan of ligatures that automatically replace a set of multiple characters with a single character (e.g., displaying "≠" when the real characters recorded in the file are "!="). And thus I also wouldn't like the reverse (displaying two "-" when the real character is one "—").

Maybe I'm just being persnickety , but we *already* have to deal with the length of a string not meaning much with Unicode; I'd like to keep it meaningful in ASCII.

@codesections Sure totally, I am not a fan of being second-guessed by software either, even when it gets it right most of the time.

I have to say though that I don't usually find myself being too concerned with string length in email.

It also only just occurred to me but I had to troubleshoot an issue at work where a form was returning some weird shit and it turned out to be an em-dash. So maybe my week has informed my opinion somewhat

@codesections The really irritating thing about the em-dash in the form was it should have been an en-dash. Someone thought they were being fancy and used the wrong glyph.

Remember kids-- an en-dash means "to or through" as in "2 to 15 units"

@codesections For me personally if I am composing something which I think will probably be rendered in a monospaced typeface I will use two dashes-- partly because I usually can't be bothered to find the shortcut or code for an em dash. A lot of personal typographic preferences kind of go out the window when you don't have any say in how your recipient chooses to render your message.

@codesections If I am trying to compose something typographic I pay a lot more attention to em vs en dashes, smart quotes, letterspacing, whitespace &c.

@codesections I prefer it with spaces — looks much better this way imo

@codesections the correct answer is to use em and en dashes as usual. if it doesnt look good in a monospaced font, thats a fault of the font itself
@codesections I always add a space after the em dash— like this— but not before.


> I always add a space after the em dash— like this— but not before.

Oh wow, that would drive me slightly crazy :D

@codesections I don't know why but having no space would make it feel /more/ connected than it should be but having two spaces would be too floaty— since I think of it as basically breaking off the previous text and suddenly jumping to the next. ;)
@azure I've never done that, but I sometimes use it without a preceding space after a colon:— like that.


@codesections I personally will use either a double dash with spaces around, or a triple dash without, depending on surrounding typography, when dealing with monospace. But that's coming from the days of two spaces after a period, so... it really /really/ depends which sub-era's typography you're aiming for, as there has been so much variation over the years.

> But that's coming from the days of two spaces after a period, so...

Oh, I actually have *thoughts* about two spaces after a period – I'm strongly in favor, basically for the reasons in the blog post below. (Though I probably won't debate it today :D)

@codesections I like spaces. It's a visually appealing aesthetic when reading articles. To me, It gives a cramped feeling if I see too many dashes with words squished up against them. However I'm also a lazy typist--I don't include spaces for informal texts. 😜

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