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Punctuation Series: Know Your Dashes—Hyphen, En-dash and Em-dash

Know Your Dashes: Hyphen, En-dash, and Em-dash—A guide to slightly better typography. 

Hyphens, en and em dashes are three visually similar yet significantly different punctuation marks that generally show up in texts. Their definition and usage are often misunderstood by writers and designers alike, often leading to inaccurate and unprofessional typography. While some of this confusion is a result of typewriter conventions still being used in today’s digital world, it is ultimately up to the person doing the typesetting—whether it be a production artist, web programmer, or graphic designer—to get it right. Writers, take heed as well!

Hyphen

A hyphen (-) is the shortest in width of the three.

Usage: Hyphens are used to break single words into parts or to join ordinarily separate words into single words.

Example:

  • tie-in
  • toll-free
  • mother-in-law
  • well-being
  • merry-go-round

Pro-tip: Avoid hyphenation at the end of the line. Instead, spend your time crafting optimal length lines.

Windows Shortcut: Dash-key

Mac Shortcut: Dash-key

En-dash

An en dash (–) is wider than a hyphen and narrower than an em dash and is the most misunderstood of the three.

Usage: The en-dash is commonly used to indicate a closed range of values.

Example:

  • June–July
  • page 45–54
  • 1:00–2:00 pm
  • age 3–35
  • Monday–Friday

Pro-tip: There are many ways to properly use an en-dash, value ranges are just the most common.

Windows Shortcut: Alt+Dash

Mac Shortcut: Alt+0150

Em-dash

An em dash (—) is the longest of the three.

Usage: Em-dash are used to break in a thought or a sentence structure, to introduce a phrase added for emphasis, definition or explanation, or to separate two clauses.

Example:

  • Love it—but then, I always do
  • I know what I’m doing—it’s easy—like butter
  • Of course, I’ll do it—as long as it’s in favor.

Pro-tip: There are no spaces before or after an en-dash or em-dash.

Windows Shortcut: Alt+Shift+Dash

Mac Shortcut: Alt+0151

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