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  • Writer's pictureRachel Paige

3 Types of Dashes

I mentioned dashes weeks ago in this post, but that was in reference to dialogue. A lot of people think there's only one type of dash, or know there's more than one but don't know when to use them. Today we're going to go over the difference between a hyphen, en dash, and em dash.


-is the shortest dash

-used as a separator or a connector

-connects compound words or names, like short-term, Jones-Smith, pet-friendly

-separates numbers or letters, like phone numbers (555-5555), dates (4-3-20), or spelling out a word (w-o-r-d).

En Dash:

-is about the length of the letter N

-connects numbers and words, often replacing "to" or "through"

-used for ranges, such as 1996–1998, pages 14–37, March-December

-used in unfinished ranges as well, like 2006–

-connects words like the Chicago–New York plane

Em Dash:

-is about the length of the letter M

-is usually what people mean when they say a dash

-sets apart information, essentially acting as an alternative to parenthesis.

For example: The student—the one who hadn't slept in three days—failed his exam

Some of my favorite books—A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Okay for Now—are middle-grade fiction.

(That's a hyphen in middle-grade).

-indicate a sudden break in dialogue, either a character being cut off (see here) or a change in thought.

"I'm friends—was friends—with someone who went to school there."

Now that we know which is which, how do you type them?

In Microsoft Word:

  • Hyphen is the - key

  • For an en dash, type the first part of what needs a dash, then a space, then a hyphen (-), then another space, then the rest of the phrase. So 1998 - 2000. It'll automatically change it to an en dash.

  • For an em dash, type the word then two hyphens (--) and keep typing with no space after or hit enter.

If you have a numeric pad, you have a few more options: You can also use the numeric pad if your computer has one. Ctrl+- will make an en dash, ctrl+alt+- will give you an em dash.

Alternatively, you can use alt codes. alt+0510 will make an en dash. Use alt+0151 for an em dash. That will work most places, including Google Docs.

Most word processors have an insert symbols option somewhere and those will be included.

If none of those work or you don't have a numeric pad, you can always copy and paste one or ask Google about your specific computer.

Some websites, like Wix—which I'm using to write this post—don't differentiate between en dashes and hyphens, even when using the alt codes, which is what allowed me to type the em dashes in this post. In that case, just use the hyphen and rely on context to know the difference.

Since I can't show you on here very well, here's a screenshot of all this on Microsoft Word.

(The em dash in the symbol box is to the right of the highlighted en dash)


Exercise 1:

Go to your word processor and figure out how to type each of these symbols

Exercise 2:

Use each of them three times

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