Using the em-dash

The em-dash (—) is one of the two types of dashes used in punctuation, the other being the en-dash (–).  The em-dash is the widest dash, and is also much wider than the hyphen. The em-dash is named after the letter ‘m’, as the em-dash is the same length as that letter. The em-dash can be seen in use below:

A vegetarian should not holiday in France—every meal has meat in it.
All explorers want to discover the unknown—some even get there—but it is easier said than done.

Similarly to the en-dash, the em-dash should only be used to separate a sentence when there is an interruption that breaks the flow.

Spacing and the em-dash

The em-dash should have no spacing on either side of it. This is the opposite of the en-dash, which requires a space on either side..

The em-dash versus the en-dash

Which type of dash should you use? People disagree regarding which is the best to use, but while the em-dash used to be the dominant type, the en-dash has now taken over as the most popular. Critics say that the em-dash looks heavier and less clean than the en-dash. They can be compared side-by-side below:

en-dash: We went to visit the Tower of London – and met a ghost.

em-dash: We went to visit the Tower of London—and met a ghost.

How to make an em-dash on the keyboard

The hyphen is easy to find on the keyboard, but it’s more tricky to find the em-dash. This results in many people using a double hyphen instead (–).

The em-dash can be created on the PC by using holding down the ALT key and typing 0151 on the numeric keypad. Only the numbers on the right hand keypad do this, not the numbers above the letters.

On the Mac, press Shift-Option and the minus key to make en em-dash.

You can use — in HTML to add the em-dash to a website.

Microsoft Word automatically converts two hyphens into a em-dash if you type a word after before and after. You can also add one through the selecting insert>symbol> and then choosing from the list of symbols.

18 thoughts on “Using the em-dash

      • You are a hero. I love you. Thank you. You have no idea the pain I’ve been going through writing a story and then adding a hyphen instead of an em-dash and allowing my heart lovely grammar heart to break a little bit. You are an amazingly beautiful person. I love you.

  1. I am so glad I asked how to make an em dash on Google chrome. Why didn’t I think of it before now? I’ve been trying to find out from my writer friends on how to do the em dash. Everyone had a different way of doing it that I didn’t understand. When I lost my hard drive, I lost the symbols behind the insert on the toolbar. That was how I used to do it. It was so convenient then. Now, I will be able to use it again in my writing. Thanks so much! It is a big help to me in my writing.

  2. May I just point out that your HTML for the Em dash is incorrect. The actual code is — I know because it’s something I’ve used myself, albeit rather sparingly.

  3. I guess getting the correct HTML for the Em dash caused it to display, so I’ll try again. ( & # 151 ; ) (Minus the spaces and parentheses, of course.)

  4. Thank you! I switched from being a Mac user to a PC user a few years ago and never figured this out. It was easy on a Mac and seemingly impossible outside of Word on a PC, which drove me mad. I am very fond of the em-dash, and think it has a distinct and essential role in conveying meaning through words and sentences. Finally, I have an answer. Hallelujah! Thanks again.

  5. This is from above in your information.
    The em-dash versus the en-dash
    Which type of dash should you use? People disagree regarding which is the best to use, but while the em-dash used to be the dominant type, the en-dash has now taken over as the most popular.

    Should you not use “better” instead of “best”, and “more” instead of “most” since we are only comparing two, and not three or more items?

  6. On Linux you can insert it by holding down Ctrl + Shift then typing u2014 (this can be done without the numberpad – when you insert the first u it should show a little underlined u and then the code…this is the method for inserting unicode characters generally in Linux and 2014 is the character code for the em dash).

  7. How do you search for the em dash in a Word/Excel document – in case you want to search and replace, etc. Thanks,

  8. The n-dash is usually used inside of words, such as “m-dash,” “n-dash,” and “AH-64 Apache.”

  9. This is so ridiculously difficult and doesn’t work on my Lenovo keyboard, that I’m just going to copy and paste it into my document. A huge pain when typing a thesis!

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