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Want to learn more about dashes? Well, you're already off to a dashing start! Alongside our vocabulary, we can use punctuation—such as dashes—in written communication to add clarity and accuracy to the meaning of our sentences. In fact, the previous sentence is an excellent example of how to use dashes!

Dashes Punctuation

So what actually is a dash?

A dash is a punctuation mark that looks like a horizontal line (–). It looks similar to a hyphen but is slightly longer.

Dashes in Writing

Dashes can be used in different ways in writing. They can be used for various reasons, such as to separate words/phrases, emphasize an idea, add additional information, indicate a range, or connect words. There are two main types of dashes.

Types of Dashes

The two main types of dashes are the en dash ( – ) and the em dash ( — ). Both are used for slightly different purposes.

The En Dash

The en dash ( – ) is the shorter of the two. The primary use of the en dash is to specify a range (e.g., numbers, time span, places). Make sure there are no spaces between the dash and the numbers.

For example:

Open your book and read pages 25–50.

In this instance, think of the en dash as having the same meaning as the word "to." If you were to replace the dash with the word "to," the sentence would still make sense.

They can also be used to link ideas and have the same meaning as the word "and," for example:

Trust and patience are key in effective parent–child relationships.

The en dash can also connect words (in place of a hyphen) and create compound adjectives. These are two words joined together that act as an adjective in a sentence. For example:

The pre–war world was very different.

The en dash can occasionally be used to break up information in a sentence. In this instance, the dash should be used with spaces on either side. For example:

I studied – with no breaks, mind you – for the test.

It is worth mentioning that, currently, en dashes are primarily used to indicate a range. Although they are occasionally used to link ideas or break up information, en dashes are considered quite formal and archaic. In these circumstances, it is common to replace the en dash with a hyphen instead.

The Em Dash

The em dash ( — ) is longer than the en dash. It is mainly used to create a break in a sentence and set off additional information. This information may not always be necessary, meaning the sentence would still make sense without it. The em dash is often used in place of commas and parentheses, as they are all used to set information apart in a sentence. Keep in mind that commas are more formal than dashes or parentheses, so they are used more in formal writing (such as reports and letters). Additionally, dashes are often considered less formal than parentheses, so they can also be found in more informal writing (such as emails).

Here is an example of how commas, parentheses, and em dashes can be used to punctuate the same sentence:

Dashes, Using commas, parentheses and em dashes, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Commas, parentheses, and em dashes are used to set information apart.

The em dash is to be used without spaces on either side. If em dashes separate information in the middle of a sentence, use them in pairs. An example is as follows:

Pride and Prejudice is one of the best—if not the best—classic novels of all time.

Although em dashes can be used to set off additional information, they can also emphasize a specific idea. For example:

You should never argue with Sharon—she can become quite aggressive.

Here, the em dash creates a break and adds emphasis.

Dashes, Difference between en and em dashes, StudySmarterFig. 2 - En dashes are shorter than em dashes.

Other Types of Dash

Although the en dash and em dash are the most commonly used types of dashes, there is another type of dash called the 3-em dash (the size of three em dashes). This type of dash is usually used to omit a person's name or signify a word has been redacted. It is generally used in legal documents and is not typically found in everyday communication. For example:

The court case between ——— and ——— shall commence next Tuesday at 12 pm.

If this seems confusing, not to worry; it's a very technical use. Outside of certain industries, you probably won't come across this type of dash often!

Dashes Example

Check out the table below for some more examples of dashes in sentences.

En dash examplesEm dash examples
Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928–May 28, 2014) was an American memoirist, poet, and civil rights activist.Red meats—such as beef, lamb, and pork—are good sources of iron.
Arctic Monkeys – my favorite band – just released a new album.They are going to refund me for the broken oven—or at least I hope so!
The New York–Boston train leaves at 3 pm. Zendaya—a talented actress and singer—has won two Emmy Awards.

Rules for Dashes

In summary, make sure you remember the following things when using both en and em dashes:

  • Dashes can be used at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence. When used in the middle of a sentence to set off information, use them in pairs.
  • If you are using an en dash to signify a range, there should be no spaces between them.
  • If you are using an en dash to separate information, make sure there are spaces between them and the words.
  • If you are using an em dash to set off additional information or emphasize an idea, there should be no spaces between them.

Dashes and Hyphens - What Are the Differences?

Dashes can sometimes be mistaken for hyphens as they look very similar, but there are differences between them! The main visual difference is that a hyphen is shorter than a dash.

Hyphen: -

En dash: –

Em dash: —

Hyphens combine words to show that they have a singular meaning and express one idea as a whole. Words that are joined together in this way are referred to as compound words. An example is:

The woman had low self-esteem.

Hyphens are also often used to help prevent pronunciation difficulties, especially if the word begins with a prefix (letters placed at the beginning of a root word). For example:

Dashes, The use of hyphens, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Hyphens can be used to prevent mispronunciation.

When compound words are hyphenated, this often makes them easier to pronounce as the different syllables are made more evident.

Dashes - Key takeaways

  • Dashes are punctuation marks that look like short horizontal lines.
  • There are two main types: the en dash and the em dash.
  • The en dash is the shorter dash. It can be used in place of the word "to" when indicating a range.
  • The em dash is the longer dash. It can be used to set off additional information in a sentence or to emphasize an idea.
  • Dashes are often confused for hyphens. Hyphens are used to connect two words to signify that they express a single idea.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dashes

Dashes can be used in a variety of ways in sentences, such as to separate words/phrases, emphasize an idea, add additional information, indicate a range, or connect words. 

An example of an en dash is:

  • The years 2019–2021 were definitely challenging.

An example of an em dash is:

  • My sister—the youngest in the family—finishes college next year.

The three uses of an en dash are:

  • To indicate a range
  • To create compound adjectives
  • To break up information in a sentence

The three types of dashes are:

1. The en dash

2. The em dash

3. The 3-em dash

Dashes can be used at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence.

Final Dashes Quiz

Dashes Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


A dash is a...

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horizontal line

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What are the two main types of dashes?

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The en dash and the em dash

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Which dash is longer?

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Em dash

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Which dash is shorter?

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En dash

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True or false?

Dashes are the same as hyphens.

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Hyphens are used to _______ words.

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Show question


Fill in the blank:

The em dash can be used to _________ a certain idea.

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True or false

The 3-em dash is mostly used in legal situations, not in everyday communication.

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When an em dash is being used, what is the rule for spacing?

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The em dash can be used with or without spaces between, depending on stylistic choices.

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What type of dash is used to indicate a range?

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The en dash

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