Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

What are En Dashes and Em Dashes? (with Examples)

What are En Dashes and Em Dashes? (with Examples)

A dash (—) is a punctuation mark with several uses. A dash should not be confused with a hyphen (-) which is used as a joiner in compound adjectives (e.g., first-class restaurant) and compound nouns (e.g., water-bottle).

Dashes are slightly longer than hyphens when handwritten. (As most keyboards do not have a dash readily at hand, some writers use two hyphens (--) to represent a dash, but most just use a hyphen.)

Read more about dashes.

Dashes do not have a unique use (i.e., they are used in places where other punctuation marks could be used). For example:

Dashes As Parentheses

Dashes (generally, em dashes) can be used as parentheses. For example:
  • On Saturday, I took the club secretary (Pat Derbyshire) to Skegness.
  • On Saturday, I took the club secretary - Pat Derbyshire - to Skegness.
  • (commas could also be used)

A Dash As a Pause for Effect

A dash (generally, an em dash) can replace three dots when used as a pause for effect. For example:
  • I eventually found it...in my shoe.
  • I eventually found it — in my shoe.

A Dash in Place of a Semicolon

A dash (generally, an em dash) can replace a semicolon used to merge two independent clauses. For example:
  • He cannot afford it; the flight alone is too much.
  • He cannot afford it — the flight alone is too much.

A Dash in Place of a Colon

A dash (generally, an em dash) can be used to replace a colon to introduce an appositive. For example:
  • She is only interested in one thing: money.
  • She is only interested in one thing — money.

A Dash to Replace From..To... or Between...And...

A dash (generally, an en dash) can be used between times and dates. For example:
  • 1999–2020.
  • July–November.
  • 14 February–24 February
  • 0900–1000.
When using a dash to separate times and dates, omit words like from...to... and between...and....

A Dash in Place of a Hyphen in a Compound Adjective with Equal Parts

A dash (generally, an en dash) can replace a hyphen in a compound adjective with two equal elements. For example:
  • The India–Pakistan issue
  • The Smith–Jones case

A Dash to Credit a Quotation

A dash (always an em dash) can be used to credit a quoation. For example:
  • "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever
    they go." — Oscar Wilde
Top Tip

The Types of Dashes

There are two kinds of dash: the em dash (—) and the en dash (–). The em dash is the same length as the character "M" (uppercase), and the en dash is same length as the letter "n" (lowercase).

Read more about en dashes and em dashes.