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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.


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