By Marina Pantcheva
There are three lengths of what non-typesetters simply think of as a dash: the hyphen (-), the en-dash (–), and the em-dash (—). These punctuations marks belong to the elite of punctuation but are actually quite easy. In this article, you can read about their function and how to insert them in Word and Latex.
1. The hyphen (-)
The hyphen is the shortest mark of the three and has two functions:
- It joins separate words into a single word: merry-go-round, off-shore, long-established, T-shirt.
- It is used to break a long word into parts so that the word can continue on another line.
(1) The automatic justification used by modern word processing software has made hyphenation un-
necessary. This is a good thing given how complicated the hyphenation rules are.
1.1. Inserting a hyphen in Word and Latex:
The hyphen has its own key on the keyboard:
Norwegian keyboards—to the right of the full-stop key
US keyboards—to the right of the “0” key
2. The en-dash (–)
The en-dash is a bit longer than the hyphen; its length is equal to the width of the letter n, whence the name.
The n-dash simply means through. It is used for any kind of ranges, typically.
(2) October–December, 2012
(5) 8–11 p.m.
(6) pages 130–232
2.1. Inserting an en-dash in Word
- For Mac: press “option+hyphen key”. Word will automatically convert it to an en-dash.On some Mac keyboards, the option key is called “alt”.
- For desktop PC: press “ctrl+minus” on the numeric keypad (the number section on the far right of your keyboard). The trick will not work if you press the hyphen-key on the typewriter section of the keyboard.
- For PC-laptop: since laptops do not have easily accessible numeric keypads, the en-dash insertion is a bit trickier.Type space followed by a hyphen like -this. Word will automatically convert the hyphen to an en-dash like –this, but you will have to go back and delete that space like–this.
(You can also have a space after the hyphen, but then you’ll have to delete two spaces. You can also type two hyphens. It does not matter as long as the sequence begins with space and hyphen.)
Alternatively, insert en-dash from the Insert>Symbol menu.
2.2. Inserting an en-dash in Latex
Type two hyphens with no space between them like–this. Latex will automatically turn it into an en-dash.
3. The em-dash (—)
The em-dash is normally twice as long as the n-dash; its length is equal to the width of the letter m, whence the name.
The em-dash is used to denote a sudden break in thought.
(7) The President—he had been criticized multiple times for ignoring the public opinion—opposed the idea of a referendum.
(8) The prizewinner—what a remarkable person she was!—said she will donate the prize money to the Red Cross.
The em-dash can also set off a phrase that provides additional information. In formal writing, such a phrase will be normally enclosed in parentheses, set off by commas (see Rule 6 in Comma Usage), or introduced by a colon.
(9) He took everything he thought he needed but forgot he most important thing—the keys from the house. [a colon can be used instead of dashes]
(10)Many renowned scientists—Eistein, Fermi, Feynman, Szilard, among others—contributed to the development of the atomic bomb.[parentheses or commas can be used instead of dashes]
Occasionally, en-dashes are used in this function, but then they must be preceded and followed by spaces.
(11) The President – he had been criticized multiple times for ignoring the public opinion – opposed the idea of a referendum.
3. 1. Inserting an em-dash in Word
- For Mac: press “option+shift+hyphen key”. Word will automatically convert it to an em-dash.On some Mac keyboards, the option key is called “alt”.
- For desktop PC: press “alt+ctrl+minus” on the numeric keypad (the number section on the far right of your keyboard). The trick will not work if you press the hyphen-key on the typewriter section of the keyboard.
- For PC-laptop: since laptops do not have easily accessible numeric keypads, the em-dash insertion is different, but luckily, very easy. Just write two hyphens with no preceding or following space like–this. Word will automatically insert an em-dash instead of the two hyphens like—this.
3.2. Inserting an em-dash in Latex
Type three hyphens with no space between them like—this. Latex will automatically turn it into an em-dash.
4. Spaces and dashes
Do not use spaces before and after dashes and hyphens. The only exceptions are en-dashes used to mark a break in thought and change in sentence structure.