You know that a hyphen is a little line that makes brand-new words (like that). And you may even know that an em dash is a longer line that interrupts writers when they’re talking — like that. But is an en dash a thing? Should you be using it? And why do we need more than one type of dash, anyway?
What Is an En Dash?
En dashes (–) are punctuation marks that show number ranges, directions, and connections between similar words. They’re called en dashes (or sometimes ndashes) because they’re approximately the width of a capital “N.”
En dashes are longer than hyphens (-) and shorter than em dashes (—).
Examples of En Dashes in a Sentence
Seeing examples of en dashes in sentences can help you understand all that these punctuation marks do.
- The American Civil War (1861–1865) ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered. (En dash shows the range of years)
- What time does the Pittsburgh–Cincinnati train leave? (En dash shows direction)
- Who are you rooting for in the home–visitor game? (En dash shows opposition)
- My ice cream–themed birthday party was so much fun. (En dash clarifies a double compound adjective)
How To Type an En Dash
The first thing you need to know about using en dashes is how to type them. Depending on the computer and word processor you use, there are several shortcuts to creating en dashes.
- Mac: Option + Hyphen key
- Windows: Alt + 0150 (number pad)
- Microsoft Word: Ctrl + Minus key (number pad)
- Google Docs: Type two hyphens in a row (it will become an en dash)
If you’re using Microsoft Word, you can use autoformat to create an en dash. Simply type a word, then space, then the hyphen key, then another space, then another word and a space, and the hyphen will become an en dash automatically.
Or if nothing else works, simply highlight this en dash (–), press Ctrl + C, then Ctrl + V to paste it where you want it.
When To Use an En Dash
You’ve probably seen en dashes in writing every day without realizing it, since they can easily be mistaken for another type of dash. But they do have a distinct purpose that is very different from a hyphen or an em dash.
Use an En Dash Between Spans or Ranges
An en dash can show ranges of numbers, including scores, votes, and dates, as well as words that represent dates (days of the week or months of the year). You don’t need to add spaces around the en dash in these cases.
- Mrs. Martinez started teaching in the 2014–2015 school year.
- We’re expecting 60–70 guests at the wedding.
- At this job, you can make $30,000–$37,000 during your first year.
- The final score of the football game was 21–19.
- Our store is open Monday–Thursday, and we’re closed on Friday–Sunday.
- The committee approved the motion with a 6–1 vote.
The en dash replaces the prepositions from, to, and between. For example, you could say “We’re expecting between 60 to 70 guests at the wedding” or “Our store is open from Monday to Thursday” instead of using en dashes.
Use an En Dash To Show Directions
The en dash can also show connections between other words. When showing directions, an en dash replaces the word to.
- Just take the Seattle–Boise flight first thing in the morning.
- The north–south trail was longer than I expected.
Use an En Dash Instead of “Versus”
En dashes also replace the word versus when placed between opposing words.
- Are you going to the UCLA–Stanford game next weekend?
- The Nixon–Kennedy debate was the first televised presidential debate in history.
Use an En Dash To Show Equal Relationship
Sometimes, you’ll see en dashes between words that aren’t opposed to each other, but equal in value or partnership.
- According to the Henderson–Yang study, the results take some time to appear.
- Teachers try to balance the boy–girl ratio in their classrooms.
Use an En Dash to Clarify Compound Adjectives
Editors may use an en dash when a compound adjective includes an open compound word, and hyphenating it would be confusing.
- I love a good New York–style steak. (Hyphenating New York and style makes it sound like it’s a new, York-style steak, so an en dash is needed)
- How much will you pay for this Revolutionary War–era musket? (Hyphenating Revolutionary War and era makes it sound like it’s a revolutionary, war-era musket, so an en dash is needed)
When Not To Use an En Dash
With all these en dashes uses, it’s hard to think of a time when you shouldn’t use them. But in American writing, it’s best not to use en dashes in a few key situations.
- in AP style (use em dash only)
- to set off nonessential clauses (that’s an em dash)
- to indicate a break in a sentence (that’s an em dash)
- to link two parts of a compound word (that’s a hyphen)
- to write out ages (that’s a hyphen)
- to break a word at the end of a line on a printed page (that’s a hyphen, too)
In British writing, you can use the en dash in place of the em dash when interrupting text or setting off nonessential clauses. Use a space on either side – like this – to be grammatically correct in the U.K.
Identifying En Dashes Quiz
Now that you’ve learned when to use an en dash, can you identify why an en dash belongs in each sentence?
- The hot dog–cooking machine is broken today.
- 12:00–1:00 is when the cafeteria serves lunch.
- We lost the game at the last minute, 42–41.
- Can we take the Texas–Oklahoma flight this time?
- The Hamilton–Burr duel was the end of their political feud.
- Please read pages 75–101 for homework tonight.
- I love your Las Vegas–style decorations.
- The USA–USSR agreement ended the Cold War.
Identifying En Dashes Quiz Answer Key
See how well you did in the sentences above.
- The hot dog–cooking machine is broken today. (En dash clarifies the compound adjective)
- 12:00–1:00 is when the cafeteria serves lunch. (En dash shows a span of time)
- We lost the game at the last minute, 42–41. (En dash shows a score)
- Can we take the Texas–Oklahoma flight this time? (En dash shows direction)
- The Hamilton–Burr duel was the end of their political feud. (En dash shows opposition)
- Please read pages 75–101 for homework tonight. (En dash shows a number range)
- I love your Las Vegas–style decorations. (En dash clarifies the compound adjective)
- The USA–USSR agreement ended the Cold War. (En dash shows equal partnership)
Enjoy the En Dash
Dashes are supposed to make your life easier, not more confusing. If you find yourself dreading the dash in your writing, decide why you're using it. If you're replacing the words from, to, through, between, or versus, use the en dash. It's encouraging, enlightening, and enjoyable!