I’ve needed to use em dashes quite a bit in the last few months for some larger documents that I’m collaborating with others on, and unfortunately, I never learned to use them properly. Instead, I have always used hyphens both because I didn’t know better, and because I’m too lazy to use the unicode em dash keyboard shortcut. Oh, and each time I’ve tried to use it on my Chromebook, it just doesn’t work. Instead, I’ve had to rely on constantly pulling up the character map in Google Docs to insert one (something there’s no hotkey for), and then have relied on copy and paste to place it in other locations.
It seems like Google has realized how annoying it is for well, everyone that I and others do this, so it’s recently announced that it’s doing us all a favor and autocorrecting em dashes in Google Docs! For those who are as oblivious as I was just a few months ago, an em dash may look like a hyphen, but it’s meant to act more like a comma or a set or parenthesis offsettinng extra information like examples or explanations in support of a sentence. You can think of it as a way to add a separate but supportive clause into the middle of a sentence that strengthens it without interrupting it entirely like a period would.
The new update will detect hyphens and auto convert them into em dashes if the grammar and sentence structure calls for it. I’m excited about this because it means I’ll look smarter than I actually am with my understanding of where and how to properly place them. Google announced the change in a funny tweet where comedian Alexis Gay said of those who use the em dash wrong or who use the “en dash” – a punctuation mark meant for dates that “Some people just want to watch the world burn”.
As 9to5Google points out, you can actually auto convert two dashes into an em dash by visiting the Docs “Preferences” section and going to “Substations” – something I never knew! Do you use the em dash in your work either alone or collaboratively? If so, do you use it improperly? it’s okay, I won’t judge you as I’m in no place to do so! This is a safe space, so let’s discuss our sad use of punctuation below.