What is an en dash? What is the mark – called? En dashes, hyphens, and em dashes are all so similar in the way they look, so it becomes difficult to tell them apart. Thankfully, there are subtle differences in their looks, but even larger differences in their functions within a sentence. So, this guide will take you through everything you need to know about en dashes, how to use them correctly, and just how they differ from the em dash and the hyphen. We’ll also take you through how to type them in different popular programs for windows and mac, because yes, you really don’t just hit the key you’re thinking of (-) for en dashes, em dashes, and hyphens alike.
The En Dash (–)
What is an En Dash?
An en dash (–) is a punctuation mark that is wider than a hyphen (-) but narrower than an em dash (—). It gets its name because typically the en dash is similar in length to the letter N and the em dash is similar in length to the letter M.
Many writers neglect the N dash and only use a hyphen or an em dash. This is especially likely to happen online because a typical keyboard doesn’t have a dedicated key for it. However, there are certain situations in which the en dash, and not any other punctuation mark, should be used.
Learn more about the difference between an en dash and an em dash.
Key Points to Remember When Using an En Dash
En dashes are the mid-sized dashes (longer than a hyphen, shorter than an em dash) and we use them to either show the span of time, dates or scores, or to show connection or conflict between two words that would not ordinarily be joined. If we have set up the sentence using ‘from’ or ‘between’ it isn’t acceptable to use an en dash between the dates, and instead we would use ‘and’ or ‘to’. Remember, en dashes are for dates, time, scores, or connected or conflicted words only, not as punctuation to emphasize or as punctuation to create a compound word.
How and When to Use an En Dash Correctly
When to Use an En Dash
Dates and Time
We use the en dash between numbers to signal time in terms of dates, like this ‘1987–2020’, it shows that the period spans from 1987 to 2020. When reading en dashes in this context, you can read it as ‘to’. You can also use it to refer to the spanning of time too, like this ’11:30–19:00′. Here are some examples of how that might work in different sentences:
- World War 2 (1939–1945) was one of the most deadly conflicts in history.
- The 2011–2012 school year was the best one yet!
- The professor’s office hours are 09:00–11:30.
- You probably read the examples above replacing the en dash with the word ‘to’.
We also use an en dash between scores to represent the difference between them, like this ’27–0′. Here are some examples below:
- The Rhinos were beating the Bulls 21–7.
- They voted Sally president of the boxing club 13–10.
- They chose Tim to be captain 7–4.
Connections and Conflict
You can also use en dashes to show that it connects two things in a sentence ‘London–Paris flight’ or that it opposes two things to one another ‘North–South divide’. Here’s how it might look in different sentences:
- The highway runs east–west.
- The North–South divide has never been stronger in Britain.
- The London–Paris flight will leave shortly.
If an adjective is formed from two simple words, then they are usually connected by a hyphen. However, if one of the compounds is a phrase or already contains a hyphen, to avoid confusion, an en dash is used.
- Next week a National Book Award–winning novelist is coming to our town to present her new book.
- Due to reasons unknown to his audience, this writer works exclusively with e-book–only publishers.
When Not to Use an En Dash
The most common mistake people will make when using the en dash is accidentally using it in a sentence when they have already set up the dates or times in a way that requires words to be used, not an en dash. If we look at the correct examples from earlier, we’ll show you how we might have written them incorrectly:
1) World War 2 (1939–1945) was one of the most deadly conflicts in history. (Correct)
2) The 2011–2012 school year was the best one yet! (Correct)
3) The professor’s office hours are 09:00–11:30. (Correct)
Above are the correct examples, but let’s look at how we might have written them differently where an en dash wouldn’t be necessary:
1) World War 2 took place between 1939–1945… (Incorrect)
Because we said that that it took place between the two dates, it wouldn’t make sense for us to put the en dash in here. Instead, we would replace the en dash with the word ‘and’.
2) The best school year was from 2011–2012 (Incorrect)
Again, because we use the term from we have to use the word to in order for it to agree with one another grammatically. Although technically an en dash here would be read as ‘to’ and therefore be correct, it makes little sense to introduce it with words and then switch to an en dash to save time or words in between. So, remove the en dash and put ‘to’ in to make it make sense.
3) The professor’s office hours are from 09:00–11:30 (Incorrect)
Again for the same reasons listed above, using from and to is correct, you choose to either do this or use an en dash; you don’t mix them both together. Replace the en dash with ‘to’.
Another good point to remember about when not to use an en dash is to remember that en dashes should always be between two words or two numbers, without a gap between them. This is because the en dash is used to show connection or conflict, or a span of time, dates, or scores, not as punctuation as part of a sentence as hyphens or em dashes’ might be.
En dash vs. Em Dash vs. Hyphen
The most confusing thing about an en dash is the fact that it is so similar to two other punctuation marks, the em dash and the hyphen. However, they are only similar in appearance. The uses of each of them are very different, so you should be very careful when choosing between these three.
En Dash vs. Em Dash
If you look at an en dash (–) and an em dash (—) then you’ll see that other than the size, there’s a negligible difference between the two of them. But they differ wildly in terms of their uses. Now, we already know different ways in which we can use the en dash, but here’s an overview of the em dash!
We can use em dashes in place of many punctuation marks like commas, colons, and parentheses. The em dash is used to create emphasis or expand on an idea, or else we use it to show that the sentence is being interrupted. It does not go between dates or times or words that are connected or conflicted like an en dash does, instead it’s a separate punctuation mark entirely.
One of the main things that you should remember is that the most common use of an en dash is to show connection between two numbers, cities, issues, or terms. In contrast, an em dash usually shows emphasis, creates a break in a sentence, or highlights unimportant words in a sentence. If it is possible to replace the punctuation mark in question with parentheses or a colon, then, for sure, it should be an em dash.
En dash vs. Hyphen
Again, an en dash (–) doesn’t look dissimilar to a hyphen (-) besides the size. But again, we should use them differently. Perhaps en dashes and hyphens are more commonly mixed up, because just like an en dash, we use hyphens in the middle of words too.
A hyphen is typically used to connect two words together to create a compound word such as ‘good-looking’ or ‘kind-hearted’. It can also join a prefix to a word such as in ‘co-operation’. As you can see, the differences between a hyphen and an en dash are quite clear, if you remember the contexts in which we should use them both.
The confusion between an en dash and a hyphen exists mostly when it comes to compound adjectives, and yet here there also is nothing difficult. If you create an adjective from two or more separate words, then they should be connected by a hyphen. For example, you might want to describe a child who is three years old: you can call him a three-year-old. Following the same logic, you might write about a well-behaved dog, a brightly-lit room, or a blue-eyed woman: all of these adjectives require a hyphen.
But if one or more parts of the compound adjective is a phrase, or it’s already hyphenated, you should use an en dash. For example, if you are talking about a band that was influenced by country music, you would call it a country music–influenced band. Similarly, you could describe a dress as semi-casual–semi-formal. Both adjectives have an en dash.
How to Type an En Dash
As it was already mentioned, there isn’t an en dash key on a typical computer keyboard. Under no circumstances does it mean that you should avoid using this punctuation mark in your writing or replace it with an em dash or a hyphen. Depending on the program you’re using, there are shortcuts you can use.
In order to type an en dash on a Mac product, you can hold down the ‘Option’ and ‘-‘ keys simultaneously and an en dash ‘–’ should appear.
For windows, you can hold down the ‘Alt’ and ‘-‘ key and you will get an en dash.
In MS Word, enable Num Lock and press Ctrl + Minus Key. In Pages, enable Num Lock and press Option/ Alt + Minus Key. In Google Docs, where there isn’t a ready shortcut, you can create one yourself by going to Tools and then to Preferences.
- Alt/Option Codes
Sometimes using the methods above simply won’t work depending on where you are writing. If it does not, then holding down the Alt or Option key and typing ‘0150’ will produce an en dash.
- Useful Tips
If you don’t use N dashes very often, the easiest thing that you can do is just copy it from somewhere and paste it into your writing. There also is the option of going to Insert and choosing the Symbol that you’re looking for.
Common En Dash Mistakes and How to Avoid
The most common mistake when using en dashes has already been covered, but it is such a common problem. Although we have already warned you about using ‘from’ and ‘between’ and en dashes, we are going to repeat ourselves because it is an issue that many people do without thinking, but it is grammatically incorrect.
‘From’ and ‘Between’
If you have a term that is already showing range, then to use an en dash too would not be necessary, as we’ve already discussed. See if you can turn the following sentences into the opposite. So, if the sentence uses an en dash, try to rewrite it so you don’t use an en dash but you use ‘from’ or ‘between’ instead. And if the sentence uses ‘from’ or ‘between’, try to use an en dash:
1) Our marriage, 1967–1984, was some of the happiest days of my life.
2) The period between 1987 and 1992 was pretty crazy for me.
3) I’ll be at the park between 13:00 and 14:45.
Here are some suggestions on how it might look differently. Remember, yours might be worded slightly differently to ours, but just focus on how we use the en dash or not and make sure you do so similarly:
1) Our marriage from 1967 to 1984 was some of the happiest days of my life.
2) The period 1987–1992 was pretty crazy for me.
3) I’ll be at the park 13:00–14:45.
Should You Capitalize The First Letter After An En Dash
When capitalizing after en dashes, follow the same punctuation rules as if it were a comma. You need only capitalize if it is a proper noun, such as with ‘London–Paris’, but otherwise capitalizing is unnecessary.
En dash vs. Colon vs. Semicolon
There should be very few cases in which an individual might confuse the en dash, colon, and semicolon because en dashes are just not used similarly. Em dashes would be more commonly mistakenly used, because they serve similar purposes in a sentence. Colons can create emphasis in a sentence, just like an em dash can. Semicolons are primarily used to connect two independent clauses, whilst colons connect an independent and dependent clause together. En dashes have nothing to do with emphasis and are used to show range, or connections or conflicts between words instead. So, confusing an en dash, colon, and semicolon is unlikely. Confusing an em dash, colon, and semicolon is very possible though.
Examples of Using En Dashes in Sentences
Dates and Time
As we’ve already covered the reasons behind using an en dash here, we’ll jump straight in with some examples of how to use them below. We used one of them incorrectly. See if you can spot which one:
1) I work 9–5. (Correct)
2) Sally’s working hours are from 8–4. (Incorrect)
3) Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) was a brave activist. (Correct)
Did you spot the mistake?
Number 2 was incorrect because it used from and an en dash. Here are the two ways it should have looked:
- Sally’s working hours are from 8 to 4.
- Sally works 8–4.
There aren’t many common mistakes made here, but we’ve hidden one in there. Can you notice it?
1) The jury was not unanimous, but voted 11–1. (Correct)
2) The Raptors beat the Bucks 13–11. (Correct)
3) The group voted on which game to play. Baseball won 7-4. (Incorrect)
Did you notice something different?
In number 3 we snuck in a hyphen (-) not an en dash (–). That was pretty harsh, but we wanted to point out how vigilant you need to be to make sure you are using the correct punctuation.
Connections and Conflict
Again, see if you can spot one mistake in the sentences below:
1) The north–south highway was busy, so we took the east–west and went around it. (Correct)
2) The conservative—liberal debate is always heated. (Incorrect)
3) The North Carolina–Virginia border is long. (Correct)
Did you spot it that time?
Number 2 used an em dash (—) instead of an en dash (–). Remember, hyphens are the shortest (-), en dashes are in the middle (–) and em dashes are the longest (—).
En Dash (–) Infographic
En Dash Quiz
OK, now that you know everything there is to know about en dashes, let’s do a little quiz. Decide whether the following sentences are correct. If they’re incorrect, what should they look like?
1) The cruelest period of the dictatorship was 1939–1942.
2) Chris won the vote to take over as chair of the meeting 17—2.
3) The Washington–Florida flight leaves tomorrow at noon.
4) Working from 9–5 is always tiring.
5) You can come between 12:00–13:00.
1) Correct! We used an en dash, and we didn’t use other words to signal range, so it was correct.
2) Incorrect! We used an em dash instead. Remember to monitor the length because it’s the only way to tell them apart.
Chris won the vote to take over as chair of the meeting 17–2.
3) Correct! The en dash is being used correctly to show a connection in Washington to Florida flight.
4) Incorrect! We used an en dash and the word ‘from’ to show range. It should have been written as one of the following:
- Working from 9 to 5 is always tiring.
- Working 9–5 is always tiring.
5) Incorrect! Again, an en dash and a word (‘between’) to show range have been used. You do one or the other. Like this:
- You can come between 12:00 and 13:00.
- You can come 12:00-13:00.