Dash or Hyphen?

It’s easy to get confused between the hyphen (-) and the dash (–). This is a quick and simple guide to using them both:

The Hyphen

Basically, the hyphen is the shorter mark that is often used to link two or more words together. It can sometimes be seen at the end of a line to break up a whole word that won’t fit into the space. For example:

user-friendly | part-time | jump-start | well-known | up-to-date | back-to-back | next-to-last

Note that a hyphen never has spaces on either side.

There is a lot of debate and confusion regarding which words can be hyphenated, and also some more advanced rules that can by found on the hyphen page.

The Dash

The Dash is the longer line used as punctuation in sentences – coming in between words (as in this sentence). It can also be used – as here – in pairs. For example:

Paul sang his song terribly – and he thought he was brilliant!

He’s won the election—granted, there was only a low turnout—but he’s won!

There are actually two types of Dash, the en-dash and the em-dash. The en-dash is the shorter version of the dash, named en-dash as it should be the same length as the letter ‘n’. The en-dash should always have spacing before and after. The first example above uses the en-dash.

The em-dash is the longer version, named em-dash as it should be the same length as the letter ‘m’. The em-dash should never have spaces before or after it. The second example above uses the em-dash.

The first version, the en-dash, is the most commonly used form. This website has more information on the using the dash, the en-dash and the em-dash.

33 thoughts on “Dash or Hyphen?

  1. Thanks for the tips. It’s great to have them consolidated in such an easy-to-read format.

    I’ve been using the em-dash for years but never realised where its name came from, until now.

  2. The guideline that em dashes must have spaces on either side is very British. In American writing, those spaces are optional, especially for parenthetical asides.

  3. How about in a CV — you want to mention you worked in such and such place during 2004 and 2005. Do you use a hyphen or en dash for 2004-2005?


  4. The major confusion is for use of hyphen or dash for other uses. For example, is from 6% to 12% 6-12% or 6–12%; 8 minus 4 is 8 – 4 or 8 – 4; is 12 degrees below zero -12 deg. or –12 deg?

    • Thanks! I have the same confusion, did you figure out if we use a dash or a hyphen in place of the “to” and are there any spaces?

      • Hi Ruth. I’m applying for a job and I am confused about the meaning of one of their terms. Please can you explain what they are saying here:
        “Renumeration: Non – salaried position.”
        Is it a non-salaried position meaning no pay? Or is there no renumeration because it is a salaried position? Grammatically, I would say it is the latter option as a dash separated two sentences. But, as my grammar is lacking, I would appreciate some feedback.

    • En dash should be used in the situation you mentioned. En dash is equivalent to “to”; hyphen is used in compound words.

  5. Your statement saying that an en dash must always have a space on either side of the en dash is absolutely wrong. For instance page ranges 45-55, a listing of months January-June, would not be correct if there were a space on either side.

    • Hello Richard, I think she meant around phrases but even in your example, when it is typeset professionally, kerning will be used to open the space a little around the en dash and is taught on typesetting or graphic design courses.

    – basically, the hypen is the shorter mark that is often used to luck two or more words about together. it can sometimes be seen at the end of the line to break up a whole word that won’t for use into the space.

    -the dash is longer line used as puretation in sentencess – coming in between words(as in this sentence). it can also be used – as here – in pairs for example:
    paul sang his song terribly – and he thought he was brillant?
    he’s wont the election – pranted, there was only a low tournount – but he’s won and then he forget about their own tournanount.

  7. >>named en-dash as it should be the same length as the letter ‘n’.

    An en space or en dash is one half of a em space; in a 12-point font, an em is 12 points and an en is six points. The letter “n” has nothing to do with it, though at one time an em was considered to be the width of the letter “M” (capital) in a font.

  8. As I looked at this page to find the proper way to use hyphens and dashes I was stunned to see a completely irrelevant addition regarding Mary Burke’s job plan. What does this have to do with hyphens and dashes?

  9. this has really helped i’ll recommend this site to my friends cuz our teacher has a serious problem with us typing the hyphen different from the dash 🙂

  10. Whenever I see a dash without spaces around it, it makes it “feel” a bit like a hyphen when you read it. Not everyone uses this though. I wonder if there are any US vs. UK differences to all this?

    • I would agree with you except in the case of an em dash, which is so wide that it couldn’t possibly be confused with a hyphen. I think you will find that when a dash is called for, most publishers use the em-dash without spaces surrounding it. At least I find this to be true in the USA.

  11. What should I use in the following case:

    English-Russian Dictionary (hyphen)
    English – Russian Dictionary (en-dash)
    English—Russian Dictionary (em-dash)

  12. You’re wrong in your definitions of “em” and “en.”
    In typography, an em is a horizontal measurement equal to the size of the type it goes with. In other words, if you are using 11-point type, an em is 11 points wide.
    An en is always half an em. In the case above, an en would be 5.5 points wide.
    Ems and ens can measure dashes and spaces. Spaces in typography are measured in ems and ens and are always determined by the size of type being used. A 3-em paragraph indent of text that’s set in 11-point type will be 33 points wide. A three-em indent for 16-point type will be 48 points wide.

  13. Thanks for the info. As a Dane I always found the English use of dashes very puzzling. To me it seems that both the en-dash and the em-dash are unnecessary. All the rules explained here only help to decide which sign to use in a given situation but it seems that using the different signs never clarifies anything.
    In Danish we only have one sign (the hyphen) but we can use it in two ways: 1) without the spaces (as an English hyphen) or 2) with spaces on both sides (as an English dash). See these examples below. eventhough I only use the same sign in all examples there is never any doubt about the meaning:
    a) part-time job
    b) opening hours: 8am-4pm
    c) Paul sang his song terribly – and he thought he was brilliant
    d) He won the election – granted, there was only a low turnout – but he’s won

    • Hi Marc,
      I wonder, did you type your comment using (e.g.) Word and then post it here? Because (while agreeing that most people couldn’t care less about the difference) I notice that in examples c) and d) the dash is in fact wider than the hyphen in a) & b)…

  14. helllo marc – hopefully we will not be informed by 200 or more languages how it is used there … 😉 actually the English language ist not at all so lawfully you so may use the hypen in your way or not – not evan an english teacher will distinguish it.

  15. Isn’t it about time we reformed english? My suggestion, as most young people in the world speak english to a certain degree is to differentiate between modern english and classic english. Modern english could be a simple form where the barriers of punctuation and certain rules of grammar and differences in spelling are reformed – Classic english being a study and use of the “Victorian Empiric rules” you still use today..
    It would be like learning to drive a tractor on a farm, compared to say, taking a driving test in a modern city. The modern world needs, a glole language system and simple forms of clear communication, I believe “modern english” could assist in accomplishing this. (How many mistakes did I make).

  16. Which form would be the correct usage for the abbreviation of the word “through”? As in January 12 – 17, 2017.

  17. I have always had issues using Dash & Hyphen in an articles and blogposts. I always mix the two up when writing articles. Thank God for this useful, straightforward and easy-to-understand online resource.

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