What is the typographically correct way to typeset a missing or left out word in a sentence?

For example, "You should brush your ——— every morning!". Where "teeth" would be the word intentionally left out.

The Punctuation Guide talks about this:

When an entire word is missing, either two or three em dashes can be used. Whichever length you choose, use it consistently throughout your document. Surrounding punctuation should be placed as usual.

However, I am not sure if this is the typographically correct way, or was just born out of necessity. Alternatives I can think of are underscores or ellipses.

2 Answers 2


Do you want to mark only the place where a word is missing or do you want the reader to fill in by hand writing the missing word for an exercise?

  • If you want the reader to fill in the missing word I would use underscore(s).
  • If you want to give a hint you can write one underscore for one letter.
  • If there should be no hint, use for example always 8 underscores to reserve enough place for the reader to fill in what is needed.
  • If you only want to mark missing words you can follow the answer of user @AndrewH.


"You should brush your teeth every morning!".

"You should brush your _ _ _ _ _ every morning!". (hint number letters in word)

"You should brush your ________ every morning!". (Place for longer words too)

  • 1
    If they're hand writing the words I'd usually leave slightly more than one space for each letter (while hinting). People's letters are usually larger than typed letters Apr 9, 2016 at 0:19
  • 3
    @ZachSaucier My English is not good and my spelling could always be wrong ... And of course it depends on the situation how many underscores one use to simulate one letter. Another possibility could be to add a small space after one underscore to be sure the reader can see how many letters are needed. In my examples above the reader could it not see.
    – Mensch
    Apr 9, 2016 at 0:39
  • 1
    Yes, if the intend is for the reader to fill in the missing word, I think underscores (or some vertical line under the "invisible" word) works best. But I am looking to use this in a scientific paper, I just want to denote a missing word, the actual content/word missing is not important for me. Apr 10, 2016 at 18:15
  • 1
    @LukasSchmelzeisen Do you write in German or English? Has your university puplished rules you have to follow? Are the word(s) left out inside a citing? Then you should use [] to mark place you left words out. To give you a better answer we need more information ...
    – Mensch
    Apr 10, 2016 at 19:41

I found a similar result for what to do when missing a word. Except the result says to use 3-em dashes and not 2 if this was intentional.

The en dash is used in typeset material and is shorter than the em dash, which is represented in typewritten material by two hyphens. It is used as a replacement for a hyphen when the meaning intended is ‘up to and including’, e.g., “1987-91,” “Monday-Saturday.” A two-em (four hyphens) dash is used to show missing letters in a word. A three-em (six hyphens) dash is used to show that a word is left out or that an unknown word or number is to be supplied.

How To Use Common Punctuation Marks from dictionary.com

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