EDITING: Dashes, Ellipsis Points, Numbers


Em Dash

  1. The em dash is approximately the width of an uppercase M in typeset material. In typewritten material, it is represented by two hyphens.
  2. Use an em dash to mark an abrupt change in a flow of thought. (She told him to—well, never mind.)
  3. Use an em dash to mark an abrupt change in the structure of a sentence. (The wife seemed happy with the change, but the husband—there was the problem.)
  4. Use an em dash to show a suspension in the sentence structure or the flow of thought. (She was—how shall we put it?—a stubborn woman.)

Long Em Dashes

  1. A two-em dash is used to indicate missing letters in a word or a missing word. (Mr. S—- of Seattle   OR  That’s b—-t and you know it.)
  2. A three-em dash indicates that a word has been left out. (The test was done in ——, a city with many senior adults.)

En Dash

  1. The en dash appears only in typeset material. It is shorter than the em dash but slightly longer than the hyphen.
  2. Use an en dash between numbers (1923-24), dates (Monday-Friday), ages (10-15).
  3. Use an en dash as a prefix added to an open compound (pre-Civil War, Chicago-Memphis train).

Ellipsis Points

  1. Periods usually used in groups of three to show an omission from quoted material, to indicate a pause or trailing of speech.
  2. Use ellipsis points to show an omission of one or more words within a quoted sentence. (“Mary had a … whose fleece was white as snow.”)
  3. Use ellipsis points to indicate the omission of words that precede a quoted portion of material. (The teacher maintained: “… to pass this class you must take all of the tests.”)
  4. If the last words of a quoted sentence are omitted and if the original sentence ends with a period, the period is retained and three ellipsis points follow. (The teacher said, “Ellipsis points are often used in conjunction with other marks of punctuation….”)
  5. Use ellipsis points to indicate faltering speech. (“Well, that’s true…but even so…they think you can do better.”) (“I mean…” she said, “like…How?”)


  1. Spell out whole numbers smaller than ten
  2. Using separators: In English, the comma separates thousands (1,500) and a period separates decimals (1.5). In Continental Europe, the period separates large numbers (1.500) and a comma separates decimals (1,5).
  3. Do not start sentences with numerals. (250,000 people showed up for the concert)
  4. Spell out centuries (nineteenth century) and decades (eighties).
  5. Spell out percentages in formal writing. (ten percent of the people)
  6. Spell out rounded or estimated numbers. (five hundred people, six thousand years, fifteen hundred metric tons)
  7. Spell out rounded or estimated numbers over a million. (200 million people live in the area)
  8. If you used the exact number of something, write it out. (3,259)
  9. Do not use commas for check numbers (check 1344), years (1959), page numbers (page 310), or rooms (room 1603).
  10. Use hyphens for written-out numbers between 21 and 99. (twenty-one, ninety-nine)
  11. Numbers that are the first part of a compound modifier expressing measurement are followed by a hyphen. (5-foot fence, eight-pound baby, 35-mile trip, 750-acre ranch)
  12. A year number may be abbreviated to its last two digits, with an apostrophe preceding the numerals. (crash of ’29, class of ’80)
  13. Omit commas from dates that include the month and year but not the day. (September 2010)
  14. Spell out numbers used in the proper names of religious organizations and churches (First Congregational Church) and names of governmental bodies if the number is one hundred or below (Fifth Republic).
  15. Time of Day: Spell out running text time that is expressed in even, half, or quarter hours (break time is nine-thirty). Spell out time of day that is followed by the contraction o’clock (he leaves daily at five o’clock). Use figures to designate an exact time (the plane is due at 11:15 a.m.)

The Smarts

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This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.