Adam O’Fallon Price writing for The Millions:

Punctuation, largely invisible and insignificant for normal people, as it should be, is a highly personal matter for writers. Periods, commas, colons, semi-colons: in their use or non-use and in their order and placement, can represent elaboration, conjecture, doubt, finality. And in aggregate, over the course of a text, the rhythms of punctuation advance an author’s worldview and personality as surely as any plot or theme. Patterns of punctuation usage are the writerly equivalent of an athlete’s go-to moves, or a singer’s peculiar timbre and range—those little dots and squiggles, in a sense, encode your voice. For me, there is no punctuation mark as versatile and appealing as the em dash.

There’s nothing more perfect than a well-placed em dash. Followed closely behind by a well-used comma.

Of course, the proper way to use an em dash requires a space both before and after, which Price appears to be mistaken for on occasion.1 I’ll go easy on him, though.

It’s perfectly coincidental this piece was first linked to by Kyle Dreger at Audacious Fox. His prose is top-notch — one of my favourite writers on the web. Of all people to link to a piece on punctuation, it would be Kyle.

If you’re willing to put up with a site redesign every six weeks or so,2 Kyle’s A.F. is well worth an RSS subscription.


  1. I need to work on my sarcasm here. I understand there is a preferred and/or accepted method for putting spaces around em dashes (from what I gather, it’s dependent upon a range of styles). I personally prefer spaces around em dashes. Done. End of story. I didn’t mean to imply no spaces is incorrect. 

  2. You’ll want to visit A.F. on a regular basis — Kyle’s design prowess is as palpable as his feel for diction.