There are three dash characters in every font: the hyphen, the en-dash, and the em-dash.
The hyphen is shortest, the em-dash is the same length as the point size of the type, and the en-dash is half the length of the em-dash. (However, some fonts, including several installed with Mac OS, ignore these typographic traditions, and their em-dash is quite long.)
- Here’s a hyphen: –
- Here’s an em-dash: —
- Here’s an en-dash: –
So which one should you use?
- Use a hyphen for hyphenating words and groups of words; just press the hyphen key.
- Use an en-dash for separating numbers and dates (25–30, May 19–20); press Option/Alt-hyphen for an en-dash.
- Use an em-dash where uneducated users place double-hyphens; press Shift-Option/Alt-hyphen for an em-dash. Using a space before and after an em-dash is optional.
Exceptions: you’ll notice that the width of the en-dash and em-dash vary by typeface. If the em-dash looks too long, try an en-dash instead.
Jay Nelson is the editorial director of PlanetQuark.com, and the editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly. He’s also the author of the QuarkXPress 8 and QuarkXPress 7 training titles at Lynda.com, as well as the training videos Quark includes in the box with QuarkXPress 7 . In addition, Jay writes regularly for Macworld and Photoshop User magazines and speaks at industry events.