Em Dash (—) vs. En Dash (–) | How to Use in Sentences

There are two types of dash. The en dash is approximately the length of the letter N, and the em dash the length of the letter M.

  • The shorter en dash (–) is used to mark ranges and with the meaning “to” in phrases like “Dover–Calais crossing.”
  • The longer em dash (—) is used to separate extra information or mark a break in a sentence.

The en dash is sometimes also used in the same way as an em dash, especially in UK English; in this case, it takes a space on either side.

Make sure not to confuse dashes with shorter hyphens (-), which are used to combine words (as in well-behaved or long-running). A hyphen should not be used in place of a dash.

The em dash: Marking a break in a sentence

Em dashes can be used in pairs to mark off additional information that is not essential to understand the sentence. Here they function similarly to parentheses or a pair of commas.

An em dash is usually written without spaces on either side, although some style guides do recommend using spaces. When in doubt, opt for no spaces, and make sure you’re consistent throughout your text, whatever you choose.

Dark, leafy greens—such as spinach, kale, and chard—are an important part of a healthy diet.
Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

An em dash can also be used to mark a break in a sentence in place of a semicolon or colon. In this context, dashes are often used for emphasis or to signal a change in tone:

There was no arguing with her—she was set in her opinion.

Note, however, that dashes used in this way are considered more informal than other punctuation marks, so should be used sparingly and selectively in academic writing.

The en dash: Marking a range

The main use of the en dash is to indicate a range of numbers or a span of time. You can read it as representing “to” or “through”:

The First World War (1914–1918) was one of the deadliest conflicts in history.
This job demands frequent evening and weekend work in addition to regular 9:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. hours.
The document was heavily redacted, with pages 46–52 removed altogether.

Make sure to use en dashes, not hyphens, for numerical ranges like this.

Note that in the phrases “from … to …” and “between … and …,” it’s standard to retain the word “to” or “and” instead of using an en dash, to maintain parallel construction in the sentence.

  • The rooms were between 15–20 meters wide.
  • The rooms were between 15 and 20 meters wide.

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Other uses of the en dash

The en dash also appears occasionally in other contexts.

En dashes meaning “to” or “and”

An en dash may express the meaning of “to” or “and” in situations other than numerical ranges—for example describing directions,  relationships, or scores (in a vote or game).

The legislature voted 95–24 to adopt the resolution.
Clear communication is key to an effective editor–author relationship.
The Amsterdam–Berlin train departs at nine o’clock.

En dashes in place of hyphens

More rarely, an en dash is used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective. Specifically, an en dash is preferred when one element of the compound is itself an open compound.

For example, the prefix post- is usually connected to the following word with a hyphen, but to connect it to the compound noun World War II, it’s better to use an en dash.

The post–World War II years saw a surprising resurgence in the economies of many European countries.
The band plays Led Zeppelin–style hard rock.

This usage of the en dash can be difficult to understand and get right. If in doubt, use a hyphen.

British style: En dashes in place of em dashes

You might also see an en dash used in the same way as an em dash, especially in British English and in less formal writing. In this context, the en dash always takes a space on either side:

Dark, leafy greens – such as spinach, kale, and chard – are an important part of a healthy diet.

This usage of the en dash is considered standard in British English (though Oxford style prefers the em dash).

If you choose to use en dashes in this way, make sure to do so consistently, and to use spaces. A common mistake is using both forms in the same text or spacing the punctuation incorrectly:

  • Jeff Bezos–who is the founder, chairman, CEO, and president of Amazon—is one of the richest people in the world.
  • Jeff Bezos—who is the founder, chairman, CEO, and president of Amazon—is one of the richest people in the world.
  • Jeff Bezos – who is the founder, chairman, CEO, and president of Amazon – is one of the richest people in the world.

    Sources in this article

    We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

    This Scribbr article

    Luo, A. (2022, October 18). Em Dash (—) vs. En Dash (–) | How to Use in Sentences. Scribbr. Retrieved November 28, 2022, from https://www.scribbr.com/language-rules/dashes/

    Sources

    Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015). Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

    Garner, B. A. (2016). Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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    Amy Luo

    Amy has a master’s degree in History of Art and has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2014. She is passionate about helping people communicate clearly and effectively.