Thursday, October 13, 2011

En Dashes, Em Dashes, & Hyphens: What's the Difference?

The En Dash

I'm a dash lover. I get my kicks from using dashes instead of commas—sometimes almost to my writing's detriment. Have you ever noticed how your word processing program will automatically switch a hyphen into a dash, depending on where you've placed it? That's because dashes of different lengths are used for different purposes. There's only three of them, so it's pretty easy to remember, and we're going to tackle the en dash today.

What it's called: en dash
What it looks like:   (the length of a typewriter's n)
What it's for: 

  • To connect numbers, signifying "up to and including"
    • See chapters 18–22.
    • The vote was unanimous, 52–0.
    • The meeting is tonight, 5 p.m.–8 p.m.
    • Mr. Sooziki (1898–1998) saw a lot of things change during his life.
  • In place of a hyphen in a compound adjective
    • Many republicans bemoan the post–Ronald Reagan years.
    • Pre–Cold War priorities were vastly different than those during the Cold War.
    • I will never understand non–French toast lovers.
    • Will continued anti–gay rights movements overturn the marriage laws in the few states that have them?

Shortcuts on your keyboard for the en dash

  • Mac:  Option + Dash
  • PC: Alt + 0159
If you'd like, check out the post on em dashes.

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