Em Dashing and En Dashing Through the Snow

I always knew there were differences in dashes and their uses, but I didn’t understand the difference and now find that I’ve been using them wrong. In the interest of educating us all, let’s dash right into it!

An em dash is called that because the dash is as wide as the capital letter m. If your word processing program doesn’t have the em dash special character, use two hyphens with no space between. Whether you use an em dash or two hyphens, do not use spaces before or after. For instance:

She never tells the truth—ever!

The two-em dash indicates when letters are missing from a word, as in:

          Ms. K—— was the anonymous lottery winner.

An en dash is half the length of an em dash but longer than a hyphen. It means “up to and including” and is used to connect numbers in a range, for example:

          The contract is located at Bates Numbers COR43956–44012.

You should also use an en dash for a minus sign.

Make sure that any dash ends up at the end of a line rather than at the beginning of a line. You would write:

          She has some college—

          a paralegal degree I believe.


          She has some college

          —a paralegal degree I believe.

Apparently you are not supposed to use a hyphen for a dash—which I have been doing wrong for a very long time! Hyphens are used for hyphenation and for compound words, but not in place of a dash.

So now we’ve all learned something (or a least I have). You may now dash on knowing you are using your dashes correctly.

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