Hyphens, En-dashes and Em-dashes
Hyphens, en-dashes and em-dashes are frequently used
that are just as frequently misunderstood. All three marks are
essentially horizontal lines, though their lengths vary. However, these
three different marks have very different purposes, and using a hyphen
to do an m-dash’s job is just as much of a punctuation error as using a
question mark in place of a comma.
A hyphen is the shortest in length of the three.
is used to divide words that break at the end of a line, or to connect
parts of compound words such as go-between, ill-fated and
run-of-the-mill. The hyphen is easily found on the keyboard to the
right of the zero. There is no space before or after the hyphen.
which is shorter than an em-dash and
longer than a hyphen, is used to indicate a range of values, such as a
span of time or numerical quantities (similar to using the words “to”
and “from”); for example, 9 AM – 5 PM, Monday – Friday or ages 5 – 8.
Most often, a space is placed before and after the en-dash, however
page ranges in bibliographies and indexes usually do not contain spaces
(Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 13(2), 217–226.)
An em-dash is the longest of the three, and is
to indicate a break in thought—as illustrated in this sentence. It can
also be used to separate a thought within a sentence—such as this
one—which would then require an em-dash at the beginning and the end of
the phrase. Em-dashes generally do not have a space before or after.
You should never use two hyphens in place of an em- or
typographically incorrect practice is a holdover from typewriter days,
when there were no dashes on the keyboard at all, just hyphens. Now
there’s no excuse for this very un-dashing and unprofessional habit.
In MS Word, the em dash (—)is normally created
automatically when two hyphens are typed (with no space before or
after). It can also be created by entering CTR+ALT+hyphen (on the
The en dash (–) is normally created automatically when two hyphens are
typed (with a space before and after). It can also be created by
entering CTR+hyphen (on the keypad).