Dash away, dash away, dash away all

Posted on Jun 15, 2012 | 0 comments

Those little horizontal lines between words and numbers—em dashes, en dashes and hyphens—sure can cause a lot of confusion. They come in small (hyphen), medium (en dash) and large (em dash), but they don’t come with instructions. Consider this your cheat sheet.

Hyphen

  • joins compound words that act as an adjective before a noun
  • divides words between syllables at the ends of lines
  • connects digits of a telephone or other non-sequential number

En dash

  • connects sequential or continuing numbers

Em dash

  • sets off a word or phrase that emphasizes or defines a phrase in a sentence’s main clause
  • sets off a series that contains commas
  • shows an abrupt change in sentence structure or sudden break in thought

Now that you know which bit of punctuation to use, you should know how to type it. The hyphen has an established home on the keyboard, but not the em or en dash.

To type an em dash:

Windows: Alt + 151
Mac: Shift + Option + Minus

To type an en dash:

Windows: Alt + 150
Mac: Option + Minus

(Why are they called em and en, anyway? Because of the horizontal space occupied by the dash—the width of the letters m and n, respectively.)

Now, dash away!