Dashes, En Dashes, Em Dashes and more Dashes

Commanding your chosen language is essential to everything your blog is and will be. Poor grammar, mis-spelled words and inappropriate use of words will not only make your readers confused, but it can also damage your reputation. Throughout history, these bad traits have made writers seem uneducated or just plain dumb.

Today, I was dealing with an issue that I’ve often wondered about, but never really took the time to figure out. I was writing in Microsoft® Word and I wanted to use a “double-dash” which I knew to be an element that allows you to separate two very distinct phrases, but not distinct enough on their own to create two different sentences. Naturally, Word will do this for you if you type in the two dashes and continue to your next word. My question was simply, when do you use this dash and are there any other variations. I was surprised to learn that there was.

Hyphen ( – )

The hyphen is your standard dash line that you can use to separate compound adjectives, verbs or adverbs. Some examples of proper usage are:

This site runs on an Linux-based server.
Creating a WordPress-powered website is easy.
The German-designed car was much faster.

Hyphens can also be used to separate proper names as well as any other wordbreaks that may be required.

En Dash ( – )

For some reason, you can’t see the length in the title, but the En Dash is slightly longer than a hyphen and is used to show range between something. For example:

The Lakers beat the Heat 91–87.
The Los Angeles–New York flight was about 6 hours.

The reason it’s called an En Dash is because it’s approximately one ‘N’ long. To get the En Dash to show up in HTML, the code is – or –. In Word, you have to click on Insert → Symbol. The En Dash can also be used in conjunction with hyphens too, such as in:

Dual-core–64-bit processors are much faster than 32-bit–single-core processors.

Em Dash ( — )

The longest of the dash family is named accordingly due to its size being that of about one ‘M’ long. As previously mentioned, in Microsoft® Word, this symbol is created when typing in two hyphens together. In HTML, you can get this by using — or —. It’s used to separate parenthetical elements that tend to be abrupt.

This is contrary to commas, which separate parenthetical elements that are not abrupt. Some examples of proper Em Dash usage:

The cake—with chocolate sprinkles and all—was amazing!
There were many people at the reunion—most of which were old classmates of mine.

My two cents

Great writers aren’t made overnight and even though some people have a knack for their native language, anyone can become great at writing. The first step is to be aware of how the language works. Avoid slang and other non-conventional ways of writing. Learn how to spot errors and always, always proof-read your work before posting! I think one of the biggest mistakes bloggers often make is that they write with their audience in mind. While that is great strategy for topical content, it’s not a good move for grammar. In other words, just because your Internet audience often types like this: “hey u, wats up? hows ur day been goin so far!?” doesn’t mean your blog should reflect that same style.

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