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.


      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.


        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.


  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…


  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 . . . .”



    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. 🙂


        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!


          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.)


          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.


          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)


          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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