Recently, this writer’s last blog attempted to explain dashes, then found that there was extensive research on dashes that was quite confusing. Hopefully, this secondary blog will explain the rules of dashes so every writer will understand them better. You will recognize some of the material below, as it should be familiar from the previous blog on this topic. However, this blog has been corrected and clarified for your edification.

There are two main types of dashes used in writing: en dashes and em dashes. They are named as such because an en dash is roughly the size of a typed letter “n” and the em dash is roughly the size of a typed letter “m.” Note that in British English, an en dash with spaces on either side is used instead of an em dash.

Em Dashes

This dash is to show a break in a sentence. It is also used to show an interruption in action, thought or dialogue. On most word processing programs you can type two hyphens and a space, and the program will automatically format it as an em dash.

For example,

“I hope you have told me the truth—you don’t always.” This quote is all one sentence, but there was a break in between the words truth and you that is represented by the em dash.

“Well, you could always resi—”

“Never! I’ll never resign! I’ll go to prison first!”

En Dashes

An en dash is typically used to separate periods of time. A good rule of thumb is to use this dash when you could swap it out with the word “to.” Notice that the en dash “–” is slightly longer than a hyphen “-” and the two are not to be used interchangeably.

For example,

1980–1985

Hopefully, this will clarify any questions you may have. Please remember that the professional editors at Firstediting.com are always here to assist you with your work. We are qualified to edit all types of writing, from fiction submissions to academic editing. Happy writing!

Originally posted 9/13/2010 and happily updated 10/29/2017. Thanks for reading!

Not sure what YOU really need?

Get Professional Help

Get a free editing sample outlining areas you need to fix before publishing. Discover what works!

Enter your email to connect with other authors and get free advice: