Writing

The Em Dash Is the King of All Punctuation — and Emily Dickinson Is His Queen

I don’t care what your English teacher says. They can meet me on the playground after school if they want to get down and dirty.

Alex Bentley
3 min readMay 6, 2022

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Photo courtesy Apple TV+

There’s no debate when it comes to the em dash. It is, unequivocally, the king of all punctuation marks. And Emily Dickinson is its queen.

Why?

Because the em dash has all the power and versatility of other punctuation marks — commas, semicolons, colons — plus a lot more.

The em dash is a versatile, beautiful mark of punctuation that can ground your writing and add much-needed emphasis where needed.

Just look at some of the most famous works of literature in history that use the em dash to great effect:

  • William Shakespeare’s plays
  • Charles Dickens’ novels
  • Emily Dickinson’s poems

In many ways, the em dash is the perfect punctuation mark — it allows writers to clarify meaning in their writing without having to rely on a lot of cumbersome words or phrases. Words and phrases that would, otherwise, get jumbled in the reader’s mind without an em dash’s usage.

The em dash also provides a much-needed breath of air in long passages of text and gives readers a chance to pause and reflect upon what they’ve just read.

Take, for example, how 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson utilizes the em dash in this passage:

Hope is the thing with feathers —

That perches in the soul —

And sings the tune without the words —

And never stops — at all —

In this passage, Dickinson uses an em dash to convey a sense of breath and movement, as if the poem were ever-flowing and constantly growing. The em dash gives the reader a moment to pause and take in the beauty of her words.

And that’s really what the em dash is all about — giving writers the power to create beautiful, flowing prose that…

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Alex Bentley

I write about crypto, personal finance, business & tech. Also, I publish a bit of humor to make you laugh.