The em-dash has a wide variety of diferent uses in English. My question is how would you punctuate the following sentences in Spanish. Would the em-dash still work? If not, with what other punctuation mark(s) would you replace it with. (I am only looking for a basic punctuation rule to help indicate: a sudden change of thought, tone, interrumption, and/or emphasis.)

  1. Use of the em dash to show a sudden change of thought:

    • I was going to buy a—what did you say she wanted for her birthday?
    • Mom needs to talk to you about—oh, please excuse me! I did not know you had company.
    • I had a great day at the zoo—hey! Is that a jaguar?
  2. Use of the em dash to show a change in tone or interruption:

    • The new managing director of sales—I think his name is John Barry?—will be meeting with our manager early next week.
    • “My brother told me that—” he began haltingly.
    • I’m not sure what to do now that—oh, I can’t even think about it right now.
  3. Use of the em dash to show emphatic phrases:

    • Money—it was all he ever thought about.
    • Time with family and friends—that was what Jan cared about now.
    • We have worked together on this project for over three years—and never once has the team complained about the long hours.

This also makes me wonder, would the following sentences also be interpreted in the same manner, if I were to use an em-dash (i.e., would it still reflect the same writing style).

Note: I found the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas (DPD) to be rather vague on this subject, although, it does briefly mention that the em-dash (raya) can be used to enclose clarifications and parenthetical remarks. It doesn't help when the few examples that are given only show the em-dash being used to set off nonrestrictive appositives (I think?). It then goes on to talk about its other uses in dialogue and narrative texts.

Thank You.

P.S. I know that the use of the em-dash as shown is usually reserved for informal writing; however, I would still like to know if there is a Spanish equivalent.


  • 1
    how can you learn Spanish if we do your homework?
    – Rosenthal
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 23:36
  • 4
    I speak Spanish fluently. I am not asking for a translation. Please read the question carefully.
    – user5483
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 23:40
  • you are asking us, My question is how would you punctuate the following sentences in Spanish?
    – Rosenthal
    Commented Aug 22, 2014 at 23:43
  • 1
    For what is worth, I personally use the em-dash in Spanish exclusively for dialog annotations. That's what I've seen in most high quality works.
    – rodrigo
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 23:39

3 Answers 3


Uso por incisos:

  1. Puntos suspensivos:

    Para dejar un enunciado incompleto y en suspenso: Estuvo muy desagradable la… No quiero seguir hablando de ello.

  2. Raya:

    Para indicar aclaraciones o comentarios en un texto: Bueno ― me dijo apoyándose en la puerta―, si no te molesta

  3. Coma:

    Se utiliza para delimitar una aclaración o inciso: Leilany, mi amiga, acaba de conseguir su primer empleo

  • In a nutschell only the point 2 uses the em-dash like in English.
    – Aradnix
    Commented Aug 24, 2014 at 0:52
  • 1
    En el caso de usos metaparentéticos --paréntesis anidados (paréntesis dentro de paréntesis)-- se prefiere usar paréntesis dentro de rayas.
    – Lucas
    Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 14:50
  • 1
    @Lucas, en mi caso yo prefiero usar llaves o corchetes para evitar la repeticions de los signos. {[(por ejemplo)]}
    – Rosenthal
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 20:41

In short: the em-dash cannot be used in Spanish like any of those English examples, except perhaps 2(a). What you read in the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas is correct: only parenthetical remarks and dialogues are correct uses of the em-dash in Spanish. Spaniards actually have a bit of a hard time when learning those alternative uses in English precisely because of that.

In the aforementioned examples, Spaniards would rather use:

1) Ellipsis

2) Ellipsis

3) Semicolon or period


The second one is the same than in spanish. The first and the third one doesn't have an equivalent (Thanks to your question now I see why sometimes I read english stuff and I say "Why there are only one em dash"). It can also be used to link words, but most of the time words are linked by not putting a space.

  • how you translate them if they don't have an equivalent?
    – Rosenthal
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 0:50
  • Well, thinking more about it, they have an equivalent haha and yes, you can use em dash but you have to close it by adding another em dash at the end, or using parentheses.
    – Jaume
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 2:36
  • I also thought about using parentheses tho, anything is possible in Spanish, the uses of punctuation signs are open to a wide range of possibilities. This question is too broad, that is way I down-voted the question.
    – Rosenthal
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 2:46
  • @Pamela, parece que no entendiste mi respuesta, preguntaste que era correcto, en cada caso, y yo respondí basado en mi conocimiento. Yo, mi respuesta, la consulte con un traductor profesional y llegamos a la misma conclusión. Estamos aquí para ayudarte y si nos estas de acuerdo con mi pregunta, está bien, pero no hay que molestarse. Te aconsejo que leas las más libros y menos manuales para que veas la variedad de usos de los signos de puntuación.
    – Rosenthal
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 5:41
  • @Pamela, entonces te refieres a los signos de exclamación. Ejemplo: El vino corriendo y ¡Plaf!, aplastó la cucaracha.
    – Rosenthal
    Commented Aug 23, 2014 at 7:58

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