Using EN and EM Dashes in Writing

by Yvonne Perry

Some people do not use dashes in their writing because they are not sure of how to use them correctly. However, proper use of dashes can add zest to your writing so why not learn the proper way to punctuate a sentence with them?

Whenever you write a sentence that requires a break in thought, you may be accustomed to using double hyphens or two dashes (–); however, the proper length of the dash is dependent upon the punctuation needed in the sentence. The proper name of the symbol(s) you need is either an “en” dash , an “em” dash or a 3-m dash. Originally the en dash was the width of the letter “N” on a typeset, and the width of the em dash was the width of “M”; hence the names.

En dashes (-) are used to show duration such as when writing the time 9:00-5:00, or range such a date April 15-31 or number 100-150. The en dash can also be used as a hyphen in compound adjectives in which one part consists of two words or a hyphenated word: pre-World War I era. En dashes do not have spaces in front or behind them.

En dashes are created on a Mac computer by simultaneously pressing option-hyphen. For Windows users, the en dash is created by holding down ALT while typing 0150 on the numeric keypad.

Em dashes (-) are used in place of a colon or parenthesis to show an abrupt change in thought or to separate clauses in a sentence. Em dashes may be also used to show an open range: Jane Smith, 1987-

Mac users press shift-option-hyphen to create an em dash. The em dash is created in Windows by holding down ALT and typing 0151 on the numeric keypad. Microsoft Word will automatically create an em dash whenever you type two hyphens without spaces between them and without spaces before or after the words connected by the hyphens: word–word will convert to word-word.

Hyphens are used to connect two words and to separate characters in a phone number (123-555-0123).

The 3-em dash uses six hyphens before and after a word ( —— and —— ) when a person’s name or some other word(s) is being omitted. You may want to start in the middle of a longer quote while indicating that other words actually preceded or followed the part of the quote you used. For example:

—— that religion is a matter that lies solely between man and his God —— thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. ~ Thomas Jefferson

Now you have the facts about dashes and it’s up to you whether you decide to dash or not to dash!
Yvonne Perry is a freelance writer and the owner of Writers in the Sky Creative Writing Services (WITS). She and her team of ghostwriters are ready to assist you with writing and editing for books, Web text, business documents, resumes, bios, articles and media releases.

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