What the dash?


This post is as much for my future reference as anyone else’s. You may have noticed when using Word it often gives you a different length of dash (-) based on whatever arcane series of keystrokes proceeded and followed it. It something that’s always done my head and I’ve never fully understood the difference between the different dashes till now.

There are three different types of dash (actually there’s more but let us not trouble ourselves with them).
* – The “figure dash”
* – The “en dash” (which usually looks the same as a figure dash)
* — The “em dash” (the longer one)

So what’s the difference?

The figure dash is actually a minus sign. You only ever use it when working with numbers.
e.g.
3 – 2 = 1
-49

The en dash is used in text. However it should only be used to indicate ranges:
e.g.
1 – 100
1982 – 2011

And things that are joined or connected.
e.g.
Moscow-Beijing
Lord Heathcote-Willoughy

Finally the em dash is used for everything else and is usually the one you’re wanting.
e.g.
She bit her lip – David was so sexy.
The room was full of treasure – crowns, amulets, coins and jewellery – you understand why the dragon guarded it so closely.

So there you have it.

Title image courtesy jenny-pics

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Published in: on August 31, 2011 at 11:27 AM  Comments (7)  
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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Handy reference! I hate it how word sometimes auto inserts an em-dash and when I want it to it doesn’t LOL I swear it likes to mess with me on purpose!

    • Word does all sorts of things without me wanting it to… and then, then once I’ve gotten used to it… it stops.

  2. Yes, but how do you get Word to force an Em-dash versus an En-dash or vice versa?

    I don’t know which kind comes out of it, but the way I get a dash in Word, myself, is to type a word, then a space, then the next word. At the next space or punctuation Word “auto-corrects” and inserts a dash.

    Sometimes I want to go back and insert a dash where there wasn’t one.before. In these cases, I’ll make sure there’s a space-sash-space. Then I skip my cursor to the end of the word immediately following the dash and hit the space-bar. Word converts the hyphen to a dash, and then I delete the extra space between words.

    • I didn’t say I knew how to fix it – just what the difference was! (:

      • I should clarify my incorrect statement above. What I do is type a word-space-hyphen-space-word-[space or punctution] to get a dash. Like – this. Word converts the hyphen into a dash. I assume it’s an em-dash, but I’m not positive.

        For old-fashioned manuscript format, I use word-hyphen-hyphen-word “like–this”. But I prefer the aesthetics of space-hyphen-dash to hyphen-hyphen, if there were to be no conversion at all and only hyphens remain.

      • Also… apparently WordPress does some auto-correcting of hyphens in spaces or double-hyphens as well… so my attempts to demonstrate what I do are concealed in formatting.

      • Interestingly in my e-mail alert about your responses I saw your intended formatting but not on WordPress itself. I understand what you’re getting at though.

        The difference between the difference dashes is relatively new to me actually, we certainly never got taught it at school. So I only ever – used – dashes – like – this.


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