There are three different weights of dash. A hyphen (which we all know), an en dash and an em dash. Here’s which one’s which:
En dash –
Em dash —
Hyphens get their own section: see To hyphenate or not to hyphenate?
- Use an en dash to separate out a phrase within a sentence – perhaps to break up the text, or add emphasis – instead of commas or brackets. You can also use a dash on its own to mark a break in a sentence – try it instead of a semicolon.
- Always use an en dash, not a hyphen, in a range like 30–40 (only use dashes if you’re doing a range of figures – use ‘to’ for things like ‘Monday to Friday’). And for those ranges, don’t forget to take the spaces out from either side of the dash.
- This one’s slightly weird. You can also use an en dash to show the relationship between two things. Confused? Basically it means that if both things either side of your dash are the same ‘weight’ then you should use an en dash (rather than hyphen). So if you were saying ‘Anglo–American relations’, you’d use an en dash. To be fair, chances are no one will notice what dash you use in a situation like this so don’t fret about it.
If you type in a hyphen to separate out a phrase within a sentence, Word will generally autocorrect it to an en dash. But sometimes you might need to put one in manually. Have a look at the Symbols part of the Useful keyboard shortcuts section to see how.
Em dashes aren’t used so much in the UK these days. They’re sometimes used instead of en dashes in the US to separate out a phrase (like this: ‘There was no way to make the words better—or was there?’). But our New York team don’t use it because they prefer the elegance of the en dash.
‘Interesting’ fact: An en dash is called an en dash because it’s (historically) the width of the character n. Em dashes are called em dashes because... well, you can probably figure that out.