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#335 em and en dashes in the Guidelines


Hi there,

I don't know whether I'm reporting a real typo (it might be a stylistic question).

I haven't read the full TEI Guidelines and the TEI Lite documentation, but there seems to be a parenthetical use of dashes with additional spaces. The question is that for this parenthetical use both em and en dashes are deployed.

Shouldn't it be only one dash for this use (whichever it might be)?

Thanks for your help,



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  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-01-09

    There are 253 instances of em dashes, and 147 instances of en dashes. 166 of the em dashes are preceded and followed by spaces, and 24 of the en dashes are.

    I would recommend that for parenthetical usage of the dash, we standardize on the em dash, with preceding and following spaces, since that's the most common formulation. Many of the en dash usages are not parenthetical, but some of them are; those should be converted to em dashes.

    Any comments from longtime editors?

  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-01-09
    • assigned_to: nobody --> martindholmes
  • Lou Burnard

    Lou Burnard - 2012-01-09

    Consistency is always a virtue, and virtue achieved with minimal effort is much to be desired. I'm puzzled by the suggestion that there are non-parenthetical usages for endashes though: can you cite a few? I would include as parenthetical cases where the "parenthesis" is closed by the end of sentence -- like this.

  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-01-09

    Here's an example of a non-parenthetical use of en dash:

    <p rend="box">
    <lb/>In memoriam<lb/>
    Donald E. Walker<lb/>
    22 November 1928 – 26 November 1993<lb/>
    Antonio Zampolli<lb/>
    1937 – 22 August 2003

  • Lou Burnard

    Lou Burnard - 2012-01-09

    So do we want to arrive at a situation where all parenthetical dashes are spaced em-dashes, and all non parenthetical ones are unspaced en-dashes?

  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-01-09

    That sounds reasonable to me, but we should perhaps refer to whatever style guide was in use when the P5 guidelines were first put together. What were you and Syd using?

  • Sebastian Rahtz

    Sebastian Rahtz - 2012-01-18

    speaking from my days as a typesetter, I think there are two issues:

    a) the appropriate use of the hyphen, minus, em-dash and en-dash
    b) the question of whether to put spaces around each or all of these.

    My belief/religion is that

    * em-dash is for parenthetical remarks
    * en-dash is for separating number/date ranges (and therefore _correct
    in the Zampolli example). most of our usage is in page ranges in bibliography and therefore correct
    * minus is for maths
    * hyphens are for hyphenation....

    Where we do have parenthetical dashes, they to consistently use spacing
    around them or not. I'd vote for spaces, generally.

    I have converted a few rogue ndashes to mdashes, which I guess is what Pablo saw. The ones left are in ISO standards in bibliography, which is unfortunately the approved ISO style.

  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-01-18

    I share your beliefs in all cases. The Zampolli case was cited as a correct use of en dash, in response to Lou's question. Finding all the rogue ens-where-ems-should-be isn't going to be hard, but I suspect there are a lot of cases of hyphens where en-dashes should be, and it'll take a good while to track all those down.

    The only reason I hadn't acted on this is that I was waiting to see if there's any kind of a style guide for the Guidelines. Anyone know? If not, shouldn't we start one, even if it's just an informal record of decisions like this?

  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-01-18

    Any opinions on this:

    1928 – 26 (en dashes with spaces)

    versus this:

    1928–26 (en dashes without spaces)

    I prefer the latter, and there seem to be more examples of the latter than the former. I also found ISO documents whose titles do have spaces around em dashes (e.g.\), so I'm not sure ISO is consistent.

  • Lou Burnard

    Lou Burnard - 2012-03-13
    • milestone: --> GREEN
  • Lou Burnard

    Lou Burnard - 2012-03-13

    I agree both that spaces around n-dashes are to be deprecated, and that ISO is probably inconsistent in its use of m-dashes. However we are not in the business of normalizing other people's style for them: we have to follow their usage. So I'm marking this one Green and assuming Martin will close it when he's made a sweep through for consistency in our own usage.
    And added a note on our practice to the emergent house style document.

  • Kevin Hawkins

    Kevin Hawkins - 2012-03-24

    Just as we have not used any particular dictionary in the past, there has been no particular style guide in use. If we chose a particular style guide, we would probably need to decide *not* to force its use for all citations unless we reworked all <biblStruct>s in the Guidelines to <bibl>s with inline punctuation following the styleguide. That's a huge job.

    I fully agree that we should always use "1928–26" instead of "1928 – 26". However, my preference for parentheticals is to use either em dashes without spaces or "space, en dash, space" but never "space, em dash, space", which I am not aware of any publisher using. See .

  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-03-25

    The Guidelines bibliography has 414 <bibl>s and only 189 <biblStruct>s; it would be a significant job, but not insurmountable. I don't know why we have both anyway; it would seem to make processing harder. The <bibl>s are presumably already conforming to some style guide, although I don't know what it is. I think Ariana worked a lot on the bibliography -- we could ask her what the <bibl>s conform to.

  • Lou Burnard

    Lou Burnard - 2012-03-25

    This ticket is about use of em- and en-dashes, concerning which I think we have a clear recommendation which Martin is implementing. The fact that we use both <bibl> and <biblStruct> is quite a different topic, and should be on a different ticket if you want to discuss it.

  • Brett Barney

    Brett Barney - 2012-04-03

    I might be misreading something, but it seems to me that we have at least a couple of different opinions, so I'm not sure what the "clear recommendation" is (at least as regards spacing with parenthetical em dashes). For the record, I'm with Kevin.

  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-04-03

    I also favour eliminating spaces—where they exist—around parenthetical em dashes.

  • Lou Burnard

    Lou Burnard - 2012-04-04

    I believe the consensus is that neither em nor en dashes should be spaced out, with the solitary exception of em-dashes appearing as part of the title of an ISO standard, where we are not at liberty to impose our capricious decisions. (Personally I think spaced out parenthetical em-dashes are perfectly fine, but if that's a minority opinion, don't wish to hold up resolution of this -- really rather trivial -- issue.)

  • Kevin Hawkins

    Kevin Hawkins - 2012-04-04

    I agree that this is trivial, but Brett – and it appears Martin – agree with me that if you use an en dash for a parenthetical comment, there SHOULD be spaces around it. That is, "space, en dash, space". On the other hand, if you use em dashes, there SHOULD NOT be spaces. This is not the consensus that Lou just summarized.

    We should be consistent and use either em dashes or en dashes for parentheticals but not mix them. I don't think any of us care which we use as long as we use them consistently.

    I agree with the exception of the title of an ISO standard, where we should leave "space, em dash, space" for consistency with how they write them.

  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-04-04

    We shouldn't be mixing em and en dashes in parenthetical usage. We should standardize on em dashes, and make them all spaceless. I think that's what I've already done, but I'll go through again and check.

    In one sense this is trivial, but to a percentage of readers (I'm one of them, because I spend a lot of time proofing) this sort of inconsistency is glaring and jarring, and it looks unprofessional.

  • James Cummings

    James Cummings - 2012-04-13

    I agree with the need for consistency, and although I share Lou's preferences with this, am happy with the resolution as is. I think this is green to go and when Martin has done, and checked this, it should be marked as resolved and noted in the style guide if it isn't already.


  • James Cummings

    James Cummings - 2012-04-13
    • status: open --> open-accepted
  • Martin Holmes

    Martin Holmes - 2012-04-15

    OK, to summarize:

    We now believe that:

    - ONLY em dashes should be used parenthetically (not en dashes or hyphens)

    - There should be NO spaces around them when they are used in this way (this means I'll have to change all parenthetical em dashes, because I had previously introduced spaces in the minority of cases in which they weren't already there)

    - The only exception to the above (currently) is where we refer to the titles of ISO documents, where we must follow the ISO practice of using spaces.

    - En dashes should be used for numerical ranges such as dates, page-ranges, etc.

    - En dashes should not have spaces around them.

    All in favour say aye. Absent any objections, I'll start implementing this, and it should be added to the style guide. Where is the style guide again? Should I create one as a working paper?

  • Rebecca Welzenbach

    Martin, I believe the style guide, as it exists now, is part of tcw20, starting here: and is also stored at P5/Source/Guidelines/en/style-guide.txt.

    In order to avoid maintaining this documentation in two places, Kevin recommended over email (as you have done here) that we create a new working paper for the style guide, and simply point to it from the places that separately store this information.

    I volunteered to put this together, however, I don't know how to set up a new working paper (or where to find the TEI source for the existing working papers to use as examples). Perhaps we could look at this together so I can learn this?

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