Which Dash To Use?

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.