Hyphen—or Dash?

Hyphens are a punctuation workhorse. We use a lot of them in online writing. But misuse can lead to a misunderstanding, grammarist’s gall, or typesetter’s tizzy.

There’s help for all of us—en and em dashes. They’ve been around forever. Think small (hyphen), medium (en dash), and large (em dash).

En Dash

The en dash (–) is longer than a hyphen (-) and is most often used for comparisons, ranges, and connections.

Examples:

The Michigan Tech–Northern Michigan hockey game is Friday.

This is the fall–winter issue of the magazine.

The Houghton–Chicago flight is operated by United Airlines SkyWest.

Em Dash

The em dash (—) is longer than and en dash (–) and is most often used for explaining, separating, and interrupting.

Examples:

Our last three presidents—Stein, Tompkins, and Mroz—focused on research goals.

Undergraduates collect, catalogue, and examine—they dig in right away.

Wildlife Ecology and Management—BS

She can—she will—pursue an advanced academic degree.

Typing Dashes

These keyboard shortcuts will work in most cases.

Mac:

En dash: Option­­–Minus

Em dash: Shift–Option–Minus

PC:

En dash: ALT + 0150 on the numeric keypad only

Em dash: ALT + 0151 on the numeric keypad only

Fair Warning

Style guides vary on how hyphens and dashes are used. Michigan Tech’s Editorial Guide will show you examples of how we use hyphens and dashes.

Many people consider dashes too fussy and give in to hyphens. Remember the goal is clarity. Write online text that is easy to read. And, when appropriate, give your text a better break.

Gail Sweeting
Digital Content Manager


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