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How To Create and Use Dashes and Hyphens

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En Dashes Em dashes hyphens

Set type like a pro with proper use of dashes and hyphens. See the Tips section if you want to get really nit-picky with your dashes and hyphens.

© J. Bear
One mark of professionally set type is the proper use of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. Each is a different size and has its own proper usage. Learn how to create, modify, and typeset en dashes (–), em dashes (—), and hyphens (-) in desktop publishing.
Time Required: Just a few seconds to insert proper dashes or do a search and replace.

Here's How:

  1. En and Em Dashes Longer Than a Hyphen
    The size of the en and em dashes is roughly equivalent to the width of the N and M, respectively, for the typeface in which they are used. In 12 point type the en dash is about 6 points (half the em dash) and the em dash about 12 points (the same as the point size).

  2. Use En Dashes for Duration or Range
    En dashes (–) are primarily for showing duration or range as in 9:00–5:00 or 112–600 or March 15–31.

  3. Use Em Dashes Instead of Double Hyphens
    Em dashes (—) are the proper dashes to use in place of single or double hyphens(--) as punctuation. Similar to a parenthetical phrase (like this) the em dash sets apart clauses in a sentence.

  4. Use Hyphens to Hyphenate
    Hyphens are for hyphenating words and to separate characters in a phone number (123-555-0123) when the figure dash is unavailable (see Tips, below).

  5. Type an En Dash
    Create en dashes with Option-hyphen (Mac) or ALT 0150 (Windows) — hold down the ALT key and type 0150 on the numeric keypad.

  6. Type an Em Dash
    Create em dashes with Shift-Option-hyphen (Mac) or ALT 0151 (Windows) — hold down the ALT key and type 0151 on the numeric keypad.

  7. Use En Dashes on Web Pages
    Create en dashes in HTML with & #0150; (ampersand-no space, pound sign 0150 semi-colon). Or, use the Unicode numeric entity of & #8211; (no spaces).

  8. Use Em Dashes on Web Pages
    Create em dashes in HTML with & #0151; (ampersand-no space, pound sign 0151 semi-colon). Or, use the Unicode numeric entity of & #8212; (no spaces).

Tips:

  1. Fine-tune Dashes
    Sometimes en dashes and em dashes for a typeface are too small, too large, or too poorly spaced to be visually pleasing. Manually reducing or kerning them can improve their appearance. It is not uncommon for a designer to use a tiny bit of extra space, such as a thin space character, around an em dash to give it slight separation from the text.

  2. More Than Two Dashes
    The en and em dashes may be best known but there are others as well such as the wave and wavy dashes, small en dash, and vertical em and en dashes. The figure dash (Unicode 2012) is a monospaced dash similar in size to the en dash for use with numbers such as phone numbers or a Social Security number. It's not for ranges (use en dash). In practice, the hyphen-minus on the keyboard is used when the figure dash is unavailable.

  3. More Than One Hyphen
    Hyphens are usually shorter and thicker than the en dashes although it can vary by font and the difference may be hard to discern, depending on the font. - – — Although for most purposes hyphens are typed using the keyboard hyphen (next to the number 0) there are actually multiple types of hyphens.

    • Soft or discretionary hyphens are inserting by software when hyphenating words at the end of a line.

    • Hard hyphens are the ones that the user types.

    • The hyphen on a standard keyboard is actually the hyphen-minus character. (Unicode 002D)

    • The actual hyphen character may be slightly larger depending on the font. (Unicode 2010)

    • Although the hyphen-minus often stands in for a minus sign, there is a longer character (Unicode 2212) for minus.

    • There are many other hyphen (and minus) characters as well in some fonts for special use and other languages.

Readers Respond: Why You Use (or Don't Use) Proper En and Em Dashes

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