My question here isn't asking about the ellipsis that can be replaced by a comma, and also not related to this: Why is em dash used here?, but more like asking, the difference between those three dots and a dash in terms of a long pause. Or probably it isn't a long pause, I don't know.

What I mean by dots, is something like this:

"You ... are ... adopted!", Said by Mother to her son.

I've seen someone (J.K Rowling) wrote like this quite often (the em dash), (please check the first book of Harry Potter). However, that makes me wondered is, she also used the three dots as well. Is this just inconsistency or something else I don't know the difference between?

"You —— are —— adopted!", Said by Mother to her son.

(I apologise if it looks like consecutive double — to you, since stackexchange has changed the output, though the input here the dash isn't separated, because, according to Wikipedia the em dash is 24 points wide.)

Actually, this question arose from this article: „[blind_man] A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn't there.“.

For instance, I don't know why they used the regular Dash here:

When I hear of an 'equity' in a case like this, I am reminded of a blind man in a dark room — looking for a black hat — which isn't there.

I just copied plainly from the page, so I myself am not quite sure what kind of dash that is. It's not long enough to be em dash, in my view. I also assume it's not an ellipsis since ...

When I hear of an 'equity' in a case like this, I am reminded of a blind man in a dark room which isn't there.

... doesn't have the same meaning when it's spoken.

Back to my original problem, are those punctuations interchangably used, or is there any difference?

  • I am not going to give an answer because questions about punctuation and capitalization have nothing to do with English grammar. Punctuation and capitalization do not even exist in the spoken language. They are crude attempts to import into written English nuances of pitch, volume, hesitation, etc., that are crucial to human speech. Various style manuals give rules for punctuation and capitalization, but those guides are plural rather than universal. Any writer of fiction is free to create his or her own style guide. Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 2:46
  • 1
    Personally, I use three dots (without a space in front) to indicate that a person doesn't finish their sentence, or pauses because they are hesitating what to say. "Do you mean... could it really be... you think she loves me?" Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 7:49
  • @Kate Bunting. Let me confirm this whether it's correct or not. So, with the three dots, it's not necessary or shouldn't use a space, but after the three dots, you use one space before continuing to the next words, do I understand it correctly? Thanks for letting me know!
    – user516076
    Commented Aug 18, 2022 at 23:01
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    The ellipsis doesn't have a space before it, but does need one after. Commented Aug 19, 2022 at 7:34

2 Answers 2


Your interpretation of the width of an m-dash is incorrect. It is the width of the point size of the current font, not a fixed value. Basically, the width of an 'm' in that font. Same for an en dash, which is the width of an 'n'.

hyphen-minus -
en dash –
em dash —
two-em dash ⸺
three-em dash ⸻

Anyway, the en and em dash are often interchangeable, or even replaced by the standard hyphen-minus, frequently because people don't know how to generate an en or em dash directly from their keyboard.
On Mac, these are on the key to the right of zero 0. The key alone is hyphen-minus -, Opt/- is en dash – and Opt/Shit/- is em dash —
I have no idea how to do that on Windows.

The 'three dots' is known as an ellipsis & typographically is not the same as three full stops [periods] Try selecting each in the following to see that one is a single glyph, the other is three individual glyphs.
Ellipsis …
Three stops ...

The dash is more commonly used to interject a relative clause, similar to the black hat interjection. This could be done with commas, so is a stylistic usage.

He ran home – by way of the shop – because his mother needed bread.

The ellipsis in speech is more often used to denote hesitancy or an incomplete thought, without having to specifically break the speech with 'he hesitated', or 'he thought' etc.

"Is that… is that really… really you?"

There's another option, in that in speech rather than description, the dashes could signal emphasis, without using italics or bold text

"You — are — adopted"

rather than

"You are adopted"


"You are adopted"


Ellipses are used in different ways. They can denote a missing word, or an entire section of quoted text removed for paraphrasing purposes. They sometimes indicate a pause for thought in prose, or a 'trailing-off' of speech. The context usually tells you what the writer intends.

By contrast, the example you give with the em dashes denotes an emphatic pause, rather than a ponderous, or dwindling one.

Another, more contemporary type of emphatic pause is denoted with full stops (periods), for example, "Best. Day. Ever".

Very often the choice is just a stylistic one.

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