En or Em Dash? Here’s The Scoop.

Hyphen

For most writers, the hyphen’s primary function is the formation of certain compound terms. The hyphen is also used for word division, which is briefly explained here.

Never use a hyphen in place of an en dash or an em dash.

Compound terms

Compound terms are those that consist of more than one word but represent a single item or idea. They come in three styles.

Open (or spaced) compounds are written as separate words.

printing press

car wash

chief of staff

  See More . . . 

En dash

The en dash (–) is slightly wider than the hyphen (-) but narrower than the em dash (—). The typical computer keyboard lacks a dedicated key for the en dash, though most word processors provide a means for its insertion.

Span or range of numbers

The en dash is used to represent a span or range of numbers, dates, or time. There should be no space between the en dash and the adjacent material. Depending on the context, the en dash is read as “to” or “through.”

See More . . .

Em dash

The em dash is perhaps the most versatile punctuation mark. Depending on the context, the em dash can take the place of commasparentheses, or colons—in each case to slightly different effect.

Notwithstanding its versatility, the em dash is best limited to two appearances per sentence. Otherwise, confusion rather than clarity is likely to result.

Do not mistake the em dash (—) for the slightly narrower en dash (–) or the even narrower hyphen (-). Those marks serve different purposes and are further explained in other sections. See More . . . 

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