The em dash, en dash and hyphen are becoming major grammatical tools in modern writing. Learn how, when and why to use them here.
The em dash (—) is one of my favorite punctuation marks. The em dash can take the place of commas, parentheses or colons. It can be used in place of commas to enhance readability and emphasis of a sentence. You can use a pair of em dashes to replace a pair of parentheses. Using em dashes in place of parentheses draws attention to the content. To emphasize the conclusion of a sentence an em dash can be used in place of a colon. There should be no spaces on either side of the em dash, however most newspapers set the em dash off with a single space on each side.
In most cases you can enter an em dash by typing a pair of hyphens between the two words you want to connect, and Word will turn the hyphens into an em dash. If this method doesn’t work, you can also press [Ctrl]+[Alt]+- using the minus sign (-) on the numeric keypad on a PC. Another alternative is to hold down the [Alt] key and type 0151 on the numeric keypad. Or you can choose Symbol from the Insert menu, click the Special Characters tab, highlight the em dash and click Insert. If you are using an Apple computer you can get an em dash by using [Option] + [Shift] and [-] using the hyphen key.
The en dash (–) is slightly shorter than the em dash. The en dash is read as “to” or “through.” It is used to represent a span or range of numbers, dates or time. There should be no space on either side of an en dash. On a PC press [Ctrl]+[Alt]+- using the minus sign on the numeric keypad. If you are using an Apple computer you can get an en dash by using [Option] and [-].
A hyphen (-) even narrower than the em dash and the en dash. The hyphen is used for compound terms. It should never be used in place of an en dash or an em dash.