Skip to main content

En Dash, Em Dash, and Hyphen

We have three types of dashes in use: The hyphen, En Dash, and the Em Dash. In this post, we will see how to use them all correctly.

Hyphen (-)

The hyphen is the minus key in Windows-based keyboards. This is a widely used punctuation mark. Hyphen should not be mistaken for a dash. Dash is different and has different function than a hyphen.

A hyphen is used to separate the words in a compound adjective, verb, or adverb. For instance:

The T-rex has a movement-based vision.
My blog is blogger-powered.
John’s idea was pooh-poohed.

The hyphen can be used generally for all kinds of wordbreaks.

En Dash (–)

En Dash gets its name from its length. It is one ‘N’ long (En is a typographical unit that is almost as wide as 'N'). En Dash is used to express a range of values or a distance:

People of age 55–80 are more prone to hypertension.
Delhi–Sidney flight was late by three hours.

In MS Word, you can put an En Dash either from the menu, clicking Insert->Symbol or by the key-combination, Ctrl + Num -. The ASCII code for En dash is "–".

In expressing game scores, En Dash is used.

India beat Pakistan 250–190.

Use En Dash in compound adjectives in which the two participant terms themselves are compound.

Hyper-threaded–land-grid-array processor powers my PC.

Em Dash (—)

Em Dash gets its name from the width of it, which is roughly one ‘M’ long or two ‘N’ long (Em is a typographical unit twice the length of en—and almost the length of capital 'M'). The Em Dash can be typed as two En Dashes. Alternatively, in MS Word, you can type two hyphens together to get an Em Dash. The ASCII code for this is "—".

Em Dash is used to set off parenthetical elements, which are abrupt. This is different from commas separating parenthetical elements. For instance:

The tea—with cardamom and other spices—was delicious and fragrant.

Make sure you don’t use spaces around the Em Dash.

Em Dash also separates the final part of a sentence that is logically not part of the sentence (similar to the colon use in this context).

Several friends were present—Saurabh, Arun, and Smija, among them.

Though most people prefer to follow the Em Dash without spaces, some people recommend using Em dash or En Dash with spaces around.


Always keep an eye on these elements of punctuation when you edit your work. Avoiding mistakes in writing is extremely important for getting published. And being careful of even the slightest mistake makes a writer great.

Related Entries:

Brackets, Braces, and Parentheses
Using Ellipsis

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


  1. It's the first time I heard of the terms 2 and 3 although hyphen is very familiar with me.

    I am not into creative writing but I want to improve my writing more.

    Right now, I am reading posts from Daily Writing Tips and their forum. That's where I am getting useful tips.


  2. Thank you so much for these explanations. I recently read about these on Wikipedia, but the articles were so complicate and wordy.

    I use the en and em dashes in Windows by typing ALT 0150 and ALT 0151, and it seems to work everywhere — even in comments. (Actually, I just compared the two here and they seem to be the same "N" length. Hmmm...)

    Anyway, thanks for this site. I'm a grammar nerd at heart, I just don't have time to pursue it. Love what you're doing here, keep it up!

  3. For MAC users: You can get the En Dash by holding the option key and press the hyphen key, for the Em Dash hold down the option and shift keys and press the hyphen key.

  4. For TeX users:
    en dash is --
    em dash is ---
    hyphen is -
    minus is $-$
    (see the above-mentioned Wikipedia article)

  5. To Lenin. What about the following case?

    Can we use Em Dash in a list (or monster list)?
    For an example this part from a resume:

    "Networking: network troubleshooting, network configuration—IPv4/IPv6 addressing and Ethernet cabling, security, storage, and traffic measurement"

    Now here; what's the status of "IPv4/IPv6 addressing and Ethernet cabling?" Does it only belong to "network configuration", or everything that comes before it?


  6. @Anonymous:
    Tricky situation. You are better off using parentheses in it. Normally, you could do it with an em dash as:

    The book--the three musketeers--was one of the greatest classics.

  7. FYI:
    Entities 127-159 are not displayable characters in ISO 8859-1 and are not part of any HTML standard, so entities like "™" are incorrect - They will display differently on different systems (think internationally). While it is valid to say that the ASCII codes are 150 and 151, do not use them for the web.
    The en and em dashes are – and — respectively, or if you prefer numbers, – and &8212;.

  8. more example please

  9. And surprise, none of these dashes serve the purpose of what I'm wanting to do. See why editors are abnormally conversative? If you found a reason to use --- they wouldnt see it.

  10. @Lenin en dashes are usually surrounded by a space, em dashes are not.
    So it would be:
    The book -- the three musketeers -- was one of the greatest classics.
    The book---the three musketeers---was one of the greatest classics.
    (hyphens used for the sake of example)
    source: I read a lot of old-school children's books with nice typography.


Post a Comment

Comments are moderated very strictly

Popular posts from this blog

Power of Short Sentences

Post dedicated to Thomas Hardy (see History Today below). There are monster sentences like the one you encounter as the first paragraph of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens . One of my friends, whom I am getting equipped for his IELTS ( what is this? ), told me that the examination recommends long sentences. In writing classes also, I guess it’s longer sentences most tutors promote. But indubitably shorter sentences are more powerful . We will see why. Take a long sentence for instance: Tom Cruise, one of the finest actors in the whole world, is perhaps the most powerful celebrity to exist ever according to Time Magazine, but many people still dispute this fact and point out that there are more powerful and popular actors than Cruise, though they were unsuccessful in providing the total number of fans, who liked the films of those actors. This is a long sentence and it is very confusing . Though it has a logical construction and conveys a meaning, it falters in many occasions and seems

Creative Writing: Crafting Characters With Emotional Appeal in Mind

When you read the greatest fiction works ever, have you ever asked what was so compelling about them that you not only kept reading it, but you ended up reading all other major works of the writer? It may well be because the writer touched your emotional quotient quite a bit. Every reader has a unique taste . Some like to read suspense thrillers , some tender love stories, and some others dark horror and bloodshed stories . That’s why there are all sorts of genres out there. When a writer gives you what exactly you want, you will keep reading. Here we come to the emotional appeal. Character Imperfection Perfect characters may not always be the upshot of a writer’s deliberation. It may well be due to ignorance . Usually the upcoming writers take it for granted that if they create perfect characters, they will be able to garner a bigger audience . It is not true. You have to ask yourself what a character would do in a particular situation. Perfect characters—perfect gunmen, perfect

Another Tiny List of Confusables

Earlier, you may remember we published a list of confusable words . Here we are again, with such a list of words. Abjure/Adjure: Abjure means "to formally renounce (give up) something" such as a position. Adjure on the other hand means 'to appeal to' or 'solemnly order'. The governor decided to abjure his position due to political pressure. Normally, adjuring to the subordinates doesn't give many results. Amount/Number: Use amount when you have uncountable subject. Use number when it is countable. The amount of love one gets depends on the number of friends one has. Appraise/Apprise: Appraise is the word applied to quantitative evaluation of something. Apprise means 'communicate' or 'inform'. Appraising diamonds is the work of an expert. Joe apprised me of the schedule of events. Attorney/Lawyer/Solicitor: These terms are highly misinterpreted and confused by many people. Let me clarify. In the US, an attorney is any member