• Joy Sephton

Hyphens, the eM dash, & the en dash explained


To start with:

  • Hyphens are not dashes—dashes are longer.

  • Hyphens should never have spaces on either side of them.

Got that?

Hyphens connect related words such as ‘non-hyphenated’ and ‘super-confused’. But what if you’ve got some related words and you’re not sure if they should be hyphenated?

Your easiest option is to type the words into a search engine and see which format comes up most often in each result. Then go with that one. You may find you can join the words together without even using a hyphen.

If you’re into self-improvement, then go to my post on hyphens, which gives you the good, solid facts in good, solid detail.

The eM dash

This is the longest dash and it never has any spaces on either side. Editors have different ideas about when and how it should be used, but my experience of the eM dash is as follows.

Use it instead of… (an ellipsis), and where a dash would be used as brackets.

Example 1:

“I don’t know—” (interrupted speech)

Note: there is no period, or full stop, after this dash.

Example 2:

“She started a blog, and people—complete strangers—are sending her money.”

Many publishers don't allow the use of ellipses (...) so, if you're writing something for publication, rather use the eM dash instead.

The en dash

This is the shorter dash and always has a space on either side. Many people think it's a hyphen, but they’re wrong! The hyphen joins related words like ‘well-intentioned’ and ‘mind-numbing’, and the en dash is used to join numbers, letters or words; essentially replacing the words ‘through’ or ‘to’.

Example 1:

The party is from 6 – 10 tomorrow night.

Example 2:

The alphabet goes from A – Z.

Example 3:

This magazine is the January – March edition.

Never use the en dash as a bracketthat’s the eM dash.

How to make eM and en dashes

In Microsoft Word:

You can use the Autoformat feature to create both, or you can go the simpler route:

eM dash:

Insert it as a symbol. You’ll find it under Insert/Symbol/(normal text)

en dash:

Press the Minus key and press Space after the next letter or numeral (A Hyphen Z Space)

On a Mac:

eM dash:

Hold down the Shift and Option keys and press the Minus key. Alternatively, press the Hyphen key twice and press Space

en dash:

Hold down the Option key and press the Minus key


Would you like to know how these dashes got their names? Well, the eM dash is traditionally as long as a typewritten ‘M’, and the en dash as long as a typewritten ‘n’, as in eM and en dashes. Now you know.

#endash #eMdash #hyphen #eMandendashesexplained



© 2020 by Joy Sephton