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En or em dash?

Are you a dasher? Many people frequently use the dash in informal communication, but it's a good idea to know how to use the two types of dashes correctly in more formal writing. 

The en dash, which is approximately as wide as a typed letter "n" and slightly longer than a hyphen, can be used in place of the word "to" when giving a date range (e.g., November–January or 1960s–1980s) or "between words of equal weight in a compound adjective (e.g., Chicago–London flight)" (American Psychological Assocation, 2010, p. 97). To create an en dash on a PC, hold down the Alt key while typing 0150 on the number pad of your keyboard. On a Mac, press simultaneously press Option + hypen. 

The em dash, which is approximately as wide as a typed "m", "is used to set off an element added to amplify or digress from the main clause (e.g., Studies—published and unpublished—are included)" (American Psychological Assocation, 2010, p. 97). In general, em dashes should be avoided in formal writing because they are often used in place of necessary punctuation, parentheses, or further explanation. Also, "over–use weakens the flow of material" (p. 90). To create an em dash on a PC, hold down the Alt key while typing 0151 on the numberpad of the keyboard. On a Mac, simultaneously press Option, Shift, + hyphen.

Finally, according to the APA style rules, neither en nor em dashes have spaces before or after the symbol (American Psychological Assocation, 2010, p. 97).

Please contact the Writing Centre if you have questions about this writing tip or any other writing-related matter. 

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator 


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.