According to Merriam-Webster — yes, I’m purposefully being cliche, the em dash can be used to separate extra information in place of a comma, colon, or parenthesis. Google Docs will now autocorrect for the em dash (—), but it’s using the wrong default shortcut.
Like commas and parentheses, em dashes set off extra information, such as examples, explanatory or descriptive phrases, or supplemental facts. Like a colon, an em dash introduces a clause that explains or expands upon something that precedes it.
With this new autocorrect in place, Google Docs on the web will turn three dashes/hyphens/minuses into an em dash. As such, you don’t have to use or learn your operating system’s keyboard shortcut.
Behind the scenes, this change was introduced in recent days and publicized yesterday with a quote retweet of a funny Alexis Gay video that’s been making the rounds in recent weeks.
This autocorrect is a step in the right direction, but the fact that Google Docs at the same time added two dashes for the shorter/narrower en dash (–) will confuse people.
In Pages on macOS, other word processing apps over the years, and by default on iOS, two dashes get you an em dash, which is what users have long come to expect. Merriam-Webster has the following to say about the en dash:
The en dash is the least loved of all; it’s not easily rendered by the average keyboard user (one has to select it as a special character, whereas the em dash can be conjured with two hyphens), so it’s mostly encountered in typeset material. (A hyphen does its job in other text.) It is most often used between numbers, dates, or other notations to signify “(up) to and including.”
Fortunately, you can change em dash to just two dashes in Google Docs by heading into Tools > Preferences > and then the “Substations” tab. There you can make it so two dashes give you an em dash and delete the three-dash shortcut entirely.
More on Google Docs:
- [Update: Shutting down] Area 120’s ‘Museletter’ turns your Google Docs into paid newsletters
- Google Docs making it easier to customize and edit tables
- Google rolling out file review & approval system to Workspace tiers
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