Using the Dash

The dash only has one purpose: to separate a sentence where there is an interruption that disrupts the flow. The dash differs from the hyphen in its length – the dash (–) is longer than the Hyphen (-). The Hyphen is usually easy to find on the keyboard, but this website tells also you how to find the dash on the keyboard.

Below are some examples of the dash in use:

Hillary doesn’t find Martin attractive – or so she says.
All bands desire fame and fortune – some even achieve it – but it is easier said than done.

The two types of dash

There are two types of dash, and they can be used slightly differently. The en-dash (–) is the shorter dash, so called as it is the same length as the letter ‘n’. The em-dash (—) is the longer dash, this time the same length as the letter ‘m’.

The en-dash is the most popular version, and should generally be used instead of the em-dash. The em-dash used to be the most widely used, but the more clean appearance of the en-dash has seen it overtake the em-dash. Apart from size, the way they differ is in the use of spaces.

Spacing between the en-dash and em-dash

When using the en-dash (–), a space should be placed on either side. When using the longer em-dash (—), no spaces should be used. This is demonstrated below:

en-dash: I really want that new gadget  – and I will do what I can to get it.

em-dash: I really want that new gadget—and I will do what I can to get it.

Using a dash at the end of a line

Try to make sure that if a dash appears between the end of one line and the start of another, then the dash appears at the end of the the line and not the start of the next. This will make the punctuation more clear for the reader.

Do not overuse

While the dash is a really useful tool for providing variety to your writing, be careful not to overuse it. Too many dashes makes the writing look disjointed and ugly. Only use the dash for interruptions in a sentence and for nothing else.

8 thoughts on “Using the Dash

  1. In the sentence “No plants are to be attached to balcony or patio railing,” I would think it to be “No plants are to be attached to balcony- or patio railing.”

    Am I wrong?

    • You’re mostly right, but you used a hyphen in place of a dash; it should instead be “No plants are to be balcony—or patio railing.”

      • Sorry, I mis-typed; I meant to write that it should be, “No plants are to be attached to balcony—or patio railing.”

  2. Most typesetters would disagree with your assertion that there is no grammatical difference between and en dash and an em dash. I am the senior creative graphic designer for a printing company, and we always use an em dash the way you describe here, but en dash is reserved for places where “to” or “through” could be substituted.

    He had waited 2 – 3 years, and could wait no more.
    The store was open 6:00 am – 7:00 pm, Monday – Friday.

  3. Pingback: The Red Pen: When NOT to Use a Hyphen | Dog-Eared & Dog-Tagged

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