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

See Also

More about dashes What are compound adjectives? What are compound nouns? Glossary of grammatical terms