Craft, Punctuation, Tips, Writing

How do you punctuate after a terminal em dash?

A particular use of punctuation jumped out at me as I read a recently published book.

In general, I observe punctuation rules, so I’d like to know if the one used in this book follows an old rule, a new rule, or a house style. I question whether it’s a house style though–unless those change depending on the author—because I have books published by the same house in which this particular style is not used.

EM DASH — This author, as many of us do, used an em dash to indicate interrupted speech. But what struck me was a difference in the punctuation used after that dash. For instance, I would write such a sentence this way:

“I couldn’t possibly let you—”

“Let me? Let me!” His outrage jerked him to his feet. “Since when do I require your permission?”

But if those lines appeared in this book, the first would have been punctuated this way:

“I couldn’t possibly let you—.”

“Let me? Let me!” His outrage jerked him to his feet. “Since when do I require your permission?”

You’ll notice the period after the em dash. I’ve since pulled novels off my shelves searching for sentences with interrupted speech. I haven’t found one yet that duplicates this author/editor’s construction.

Am I behind the times or have I, and countless other authors, been doing it wrong all along?

Your turn: Please tell me, how do you punctuate after a terminal em dash?

(See my next post on using punctuation with the terminal ellipsis.)

 

57 thoughts on “How do you punctuate after a terminal em dash?”

  1. I do know that some UK writers use an em dash with spaces, which could lead to the breaking of the line as you mentioned. But you could use a non-breaking space to keep the em dash, or any dash, on the same line. A simpler way to keep the quote mark being orphaned from the dash would be to delete the space between them. However, I think that with or without spaces, an em dash is used both in the UK and US only to indicate that speech is cut off, so there would never be a dialogue tag after it. Of course, when it comes to a personal style, the only rule is to be consistent in its use.

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