Author Advice, Editing Assistance, Grammar Assistant, Punctuation

#Punctuation how to use #dashes and #ellipses in your writing #AmWriting #AmEditing #Authors #Writers #Writing

In today’s article I’m going to look at the use of ellipses […] and dashes [-/–/—] in fiction writing.


An ellipsis is a glyph made up of three full points … which is used to indicate omitted words, pauses in speech, and unfinished thoughts. If you type three full points, most word processing programmes will autocorrect them to a single glyph.

When used in sentences, the ellipsis has a space on either side and no other punctuation is needed:

‘I tried I really tried.

‘I was under the impression didn’t you start that last week?’

When used to indicate unfinished thoughts or at the end of a sentence, no spaces are required in front of the ellipsis:

‘I could have sworn I

Or to build tension:

The door opened slowly

When a sentence should end with an exclamation or question mark, they are included at the end of the ellipsis:

‘Didn’t you just ask for one…?

She couldn’t even reach the top…!

A comma isn’t required before or after an ellipsis.

An ellipsis can also be used in place of etc. when the reader is expected to infer to rest of a sequence or list:

We needed lots of vegetables; potatoes, leeks, carrots, onions


There are three dashes in the punctuation world, the hyphen [-], the en dash [–] (so named as it’s typically the same width of the letter ‘n’), and the em dash [—] (so named as it’s typically the same width of the letter ‘m’).

The hyphen is typically used in compound words, numbers, prefixes, and suffixes:

The north-westerly wind was strong today.

My mother-in-law is a nightmare!

If the compound words precede the noun, they are hyphenated:

I have the up-to-date records.

But not if the noun appears first:

The records are up to date.

Nor if the first word of the compound is an adverb:

The newly married couple not the newly-married couple.

When spelling out numbers:

It was her twenty-first birthday.

Prefixes when there is a risk of collision of letters:

I needed to re-enter the room.

Her number is ex-directory.

Suffixes when the word already ends in double l:

She found a shell-like rock on the beach.

En rule/dash

Most British publishers use the en dash in place of the brackets () and a space is required on each side:

We were travelling – in the clapped out car – all night.

And they’re used to show action during dialogue:

‘I can’t believe he‘ – she nodded at Jim – ‘came tonight!’

Em rule/dash

Most British publishers use the em dash to indicate interrupted dialogue:

‘I said I wanted to g—

‘I don’t care what you said!’ He interrupted.


I do hope these tips help you with your writing!

Have a great day x

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