Dashes & Dashes & Hyphens, Oh My!

Are you using your dashes & hyphens correctly?


Recent editing of several manuscripts has me double checking hyphen/dash use, so I wrote out this quick reminder. 

The hyphen

Looks like:  –

Made by: Pressing the key after the zero along the top of the keyboard. (No spaces between words, hyphen is typed just as another letter would be.)

Usage: To connect two words functioning together, such as two-thirds, brother-in-law, brown-headed, etc.


En dash

Looks like:  – A longer version of hyphen yet shorter than the Em dash.

Made by: In Word by typing a word, then a space, then the hyphen key, then another space, then another word, then a space again. (word+space+hyphen+space+word+space) The hyphen will appear until the space bar is pressed after the last word is typed.

Usage: To connect words related by distance, such as May – December, 1980 – 1990, A – Z. It can also connect a prefix to a proper noun, such as pre–World War II or post–Civil War.


Em dash

Looks like: The longest version of the dash

Made by: In Word by typing ctrl+alt+the subtraction key in the number pad of the keyboard.

Usage: Can be used in place of a comma, semi colon, colon or ellipsis. The Em dash never “has” to be used at all—it is an optional alternative to the aforementioned punctuation to set off words and add excitement to the text.

*The em dash is used with spaces before and after in news/magazine articles according to the AP style, such as, It happened — all at once — right before their eyes! But it is typically used without spaces in other styles of writing according to the Chicago Manual of Style, such as, It happened—all at once—right before their eyes!

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2 Responses to Dashes & Dashes & Hyphens, Oh My!

  1. photojaq says:

    Thanks. I didn’t know the difference between EN and EM dashes.

  2. You’re welcome 🙂 I’ve just been over several manuscripts which led me to think there was definitely some confusion about them, hence the short and sweet article. 🙂

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