I learned something at work this week that I can't believe I didn't pick up during my years as an English teacher—the difference between hyphens, en dashes and em dashes. I guess being a web developer can lead just about anywhere.

NameExampleHTML Code
En Dash–
Em Dash—


Hyphens are short or just "normal" dashes. Any standard keyboard will have a key for them. Hyphens are used for joined words.

self-evident, top-notch

En Dashes

En dashes are longer than hyphens. If you have a Mac you can type them by hitting option+dash. En dashes are generally used for ranges.

50–100, A–Z

Em Dashes

Em dashes are very long compared to hyphens. Long ago, typographers named en dashes and em dashes after the widths of the letters N and M. On a Mac you can type em dashes with option+shift+dash. Em dashes can sometimes replace a comma, semi-colon or colon—right here for example. They can also replace parenthesis in parenthetical asides such as the following:

"My great-grandmother—a life-long pianist—used to enjoy that piece."

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2 replies
  • Nice post about dashes! I’m going to start using Em Dashes instead of parenthesis more often, much more elegant in my opinion.

    Also, good talking to you on the train this morning. Hope to run into you again sometime.