What Dash Is Used for Quote Attribution?

Have you ever cited a quote directly from an author or writer? Attributing a quote with a dash is common, but you might be stumped figuring out which dash to use.

Don’t worry. This article will explain everything you need to know before using dashes for quote attribution.

What Dash Is Used for Quote Attribution?

The most common dash for quote attribution is an em dash (). It is much longer than most types of dashes, showing that it’s separate from the quote. It works well as a form of citation. You can also use an en dash (-), though this isn’t as popular.

Dash for Quote Attribution

If you don’t know how best to use the em dash, you can refer to the following:

  • “They did not think much about the livelihood of the people.”
  • —Author Name

Here, you can see the em dash before the author’s name. Including it before author names is great because it shows where the quote comes from directly.

Most readers will understand the attribution here.

The thing with quote attribution is there are no specific rules that say one dash is better than the other. Most style guides do not provide specific rules that establish which dash is used. It comes down to the writer’s preference above all else.

You can refer to The Chicago Manual of Style for a brief explanation about this.

According to Chicago Style, you should source the quotation in the line directly after it. Sometimes, the source is preceded by a dash. The key word is “sometimes” here. Even Chicago Style shows that no form of the dash is necessary” when attributing a quote in your writing.

Em Dash

The em dash is the most likely candidate for quote attribution. It provides the clearest difference between the quote and the author’s name. This makes it the best choice when you are looking to explore different citations and quotes.

  • “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
  • —William Shakespeare

As you can see, the dash comes directly before the author’s name and is always on the next line. This makes it as clear as possible where the quotation comes from and who wrote it.

En Dash

An en dash is sometimes used, but it’s not nearly as popular. It’s not as popular as an em dash because it’s not as long, making it less obvious when included in your writing.

It’s very common for em dashes to be confused with normal hyphens or minus signs. The length of an en dash is barely different, making it hard to discern the quote source:

  • “Sleep is good, he said, and books are better.”
  • -George R.R. Martin

An en dash works in the same way as an em dash. It’s mainly personal preference from the writer that determines whether the longer em dash or shorter en dash is used.

Most formal writers will encourage length over anything else here. Therefore, an em dash is better.

Two-Em Dash

A two-em dash is also a popular choice. Funnily enough, this means two em dashes are used next to each other. Many writers like to include even more length than a standard em dash to show a clear distinction when attributing a quote.

You will often see it like this:

  • Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”
  • — —Jane Smiley

The em dash length allows it to flow naturally into itself. There are no clear spaces between two em dashes when used in this way.

Many formal writers and authors encourage this style in most essay formats. It shows the reader exactly where the quote came from and who to refer to if you want to learn more.

Three-Em Dash

A three-em dash is the last choice you can use. This is the longest length you can get away with in formal writing when attributing a quote to somebody. As you might have guessed, it works when three em dashes are used one after the other.

  • Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.”
  • — — —Dr. Seuss

Some would argue that a three-em dash is excessive. Again, there are no specific rules that apply here.

The main thing to think about is a personal preference. If you prefer the length of a three-em dash over a two- or one-em dash, then, by all means, go for it.

Space Between Dash and Author Name?

In all of the examples provided, we have not included a space between the dash and the author’s name. You do not need to include a space when attributing a quote with a dash.

You can place the author’s name directly after the dash. The space does not make the attribution clearer, so there is no reason to include it.

Should I Use a Dash for Quote Attribution?

As previously mentioned, dashes aren’t necessary for quote attribution. Most style guides do not suggest anything about dashes for quote attribution.

The Chicago Manual of Style says that dashes are “sometimes” used, but you may also attribute quotes by including the author in the following line. If you’ve included the author’s name on the line after the quote, you’re already separating it for the reader.

  • I love the smell of book ink in the morning.”
  • Umberto Eco

Many writers appreciate the dash. It makes it clear that you attributed the quote to a specific author. However, it is never required. It is up to you to determine whether you want to include one.