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.)

 

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

  1. I’ve never seen a punctuation mark other than a quotation mark after an em-dash, and the use of any other doesn’t make sense to me. I think it was a printing error.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, Ann. The publisher is Knopf, and I have books by two of their other authors. One uses no punctuation after a terminal em dash, so it doesn’t appear to be a house style. The other doesn’t use em dashs at all.

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      1. Well, I saw below that the author in question is Anne Rice.

        She’s had multiple publishers, but I think her quirky punctuation is her style and not a house style. I’m looking at a 1997 copy of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE (originally printed in 1976) that shows the oddest use of ellipses I’ve ever seen. I don’t see any em-dashes that end a line of dialogue, unfortunately.

        The only other publications by Ballantine Books that I have on my shelves are J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and prequel (1980’s printings). Tolkien followed the industry standard for both em-dashes and ellipses (but sometimes the “British” style for quotation marks).

        From THE HOBBIT:
        “I had a great-great-great-granduncle once, Bullroarer Took, and–”
        “Yes, yes, but that was long ago,” said Gloin.

        From THE TWO TOWERS:
        ‘How old Toby came by the plant…’
        ‘You do not know your danger, Théoden,’ interrupted Gandalf.

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        1. As I said, Ann, this Rice book was published by Knopf. I looked in some of her earlier books (all Knopf). I couldn’t find any instances in a thumb through of Interview with a Vampire, but this same usage is in The Vampire Lestat. And like I said, another Knopf author (Anne Tyler) does not use the punctuation after the em dash, so I guess you’re right that it’s Rice’s personal style. That’s interesting in itself, particularly if she didn’t adopt this quirk until after Inteview was a hit.

          Discussion of punctuation and the ellipsis is up in my next post.

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  2. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I would use just the quotation marks.

    Although, truth be told, I’m so old school, I use ellipses…

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  3. It would drive me batty to see that period after the emdash! lawd! The only way it’d end up in one of my novels is if it was accidental!

    I just recently forced myself to add the fourth dot (period) in an ellipses at the end of the sentence, “Kat didn’t want to add the last one . . . .”

    😀

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    1. That errant little dot got under my skin every time I came to one, Kat. This morning, I finally thought to check another book by this author and found she’s always punctuated like that. I just hadn’t read her writing for years. And probably the last time I did, I was pretty uncertain in my own punctuation.

      I’m blogging about the ellipsis next. 🙂

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        1. Paradox! Actually, maybe it’s when the story itself is taking a break or changing direction so that, while the speech or particular text is hanging or interrupted (probably hanging), the story is about to move on via a new paragraph or even chapter.
          Hm – well, I know what I mean!

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          1. I’m not sure if you’re being serious, Suzanne, but if you are that would mean you would only use this punctuation if the em dash occurs at the end of a scene, right? (That was not the case in the book I mentioned.)

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          2. Replying to myself, Linda, as there isn’t a reply option on your comment. Yes, serious – although I know it can be hard to tell! You’re probably right, it would be at the end of a scene so that the next tract of text began either on a new page or after a double space and with no indent.

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          1. I finally became used to the ellipses ending period when I thought, wellllll, they are at the end of their “speak” – What Ever! 😀 But I’ve grown used to it and even finally allowed myself to use it in this last novel (I don’t believe it’s in the others – ha! :-D)

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          2. The same for me, Kat. I’ve recently switched. But I still have questions because, in looking for these em dashes, I noticed that so many published authors do NOT use punctuation with a terminal ellipsis. That’s why my next post will be on this topic. In fact, I’m writing it right now.

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