Hyphens, En-dashes & Em-dashes

Production Tips & Tricks

There are a number of different dashes that are available on your keyboard for you to use in your documents. We have the dash or hyphen (-), the En-dash (–), and the Em-dash (—). What are the key commands for them and when is it appropriate to use each one? Depending on who you talk to or what reference you use, you will get different answers. We will try to condense this, for the full discussion you might want to visit Wikipedia.

The key commands:

On the Mac (these key commands work in almost all programs)

  • Dash (-): use the “hyphen” key
  • En-dash (–): hold down the “option” key and then type the “hyphen” key
  • Em-dash (—): hold down the “option & shift” key simultaneously and type the “hyphen” key.

On the PC (support is spotty, these work in InDesign but not Word)

  • Dash (-): use the hyphen key
  • En-dash (–): hold down the “alt” key and type the “hyphen” key
  • Em-dash (—): hold down the “alt” key and the “shift” key and type a “hyphen”

Appropriate usage

Hyphens and En-Dashes

Hyphens are typically used to set compound words.

Typical Hyphen usage

  1. good-natured
  2. face-to-face
  3. we are pro-Colts here
  4. 317-635-2282

Hyphens, En-dashes and relationships

Hyphens and En-dashes can represent different relationships. Such as in these instances:

The Jones-Smith Theory (using a dash)
In “The Jones-Smith Theory” we are referring to an individual person who’s name is Jones-Smith.

The Jones–Smith Company (using an en-dash)
“The Jones–Smith Company” refers to two different people who’s names are Jones and Smith.


The En-dash should be used for ranges of values or relationships and connections.


  1. June–July 1965
  2. 1:00–2:00 p.m.
  3. For ages 3–5
  4. pp. 38–57
  5. Red Sox beat the Yankees 6–0
  6. Boston–Indianapolis flight
  7. Father–daughter relationship
  8. Dewey–Cheatem–Howe

Typically en-dashes don’t have spaces, the exception to this rule is when the spaces make it easier to read the text (June 12 – June 24).


The em dash can be used in much the way you would use a colon or a set of parentheses. It can show an abrupt change in thought or be used where a period is too strong and a comma too weak. Em dashes are sometimes used in lists or definitions, but that is a style issue; a colon is often used instead.

“Having been given a box of Crayola Crayons—including the gold and silver crayons—I proceeded to use the dining room wall paper as my canvas.”

It can also be used in place of ellipses (…) such as when Darth Vader said, “I sense something, a presence I have not felt since—”.

Em-dashes typically don’t have spaces on either side, but this is also a debated point. Let’s just say it’s a style issue, use them if you want. Just a note, if you are using justified text, a spaced En or Em dash will break cleaner than an un-spaced dash.

Editor: This article heavily paraphrased the discussion on Wikipedia, please go there for the full text.

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