The three kinds of dashes

Believe it or not there are actually three kinds of dashes:

  • hyphen -
  • en dash –
  • em dash —

Do you see how each one gets longer?

There’s a great explanation for when to use each kind of dash on the English StackExchange.

Learning to create an em dash

Most ordinary people only ever use the hyphen because they’ve never learnt any other way, but really the different dashes do different things and it’s worth learning which one to use when because the right dash looks way nicer than the wrong dash.

In this lesson there is only one dash you want—the em dash.

The trick is that this dash is not on your keyboard!

If you are on a Mac it’s easy: you can create an em dash by holding down Shift+Option and then typing a hyphen - .

It’s harder on a PC. You can create an em dash by holding Alt and typing 0151 on your number pad. If you’re on a laptop you may have to hold down the Fn key as well… I don’t know, it gets complicated.

Check out these instructions for help.

If you can’t get an em dash to appear, don’t worry--you can cheat it by using two hyphens side by side (in fact, most word processing software will automatically convert two side-by-side hyphens into an em-dash for you).