In printing and word processing there are two different lengths of dashes in text. The em dash is longer and is so-named because it is the width of an "m" in printing. The en dash, conversely, is the width of an "n." The em dash is used for setting off words in a sentence for emphasis. The en dash, on the other hand, is used mainly to separate numbers in a range and indicate that all the numbers between the ones typed are included, such as "pages 9-133."
Things You'll Need
- Computer keyboard
- Word-processing software
Use general keyboard shortcuts to create the different types of dashes. The keyboard shortcuts differ according to the operating system of your computer. Using these shortcuts will allow you to type the specific type of dash no matter what application you happen to be using, such as email applications or word processors.
For an em dash on a Macintosh operating system, press the following key combination simultaneously: Shift+Option+Hyphen. For an en dash, press Option+Hyphen simultaneously. For an em dash on a Windows operating system, hold down the Alt key and type 0151. For an en dash, press and hold down the Alt key then type 0150.
Insert these special characters from a character palette or character map. Bring up the character applet and browse the special characters until you find the one you want. Then double-click the character to insert it into your document. The method of accessing these applets differs depending on the operating system of your computer.
For a Macintosh computer, press Command+Option+T simultaneously to make the character palette window appear.
For Windows operating systems, click the Start menu, choose Programs, click Accessories, and choose System Tools. Character Map will be one of the choices on the System Tools menu.
Allow your word processing software to make the change depending on how you type text containing hyphens. Microsoft Word, Macintosh's TextEdit application and many other standard word-processing applications will automatically, by default, change characters containing hyphens to an em or en dash, depending on the text combination typed. This will not happen, however, if the automatic correction function has been disabled. For example, if you type two hyphens in succession, it will be changed to an em dash. If you type a single hyphen surrounded by spaces, the software will change it to an en dash.
Tips & Warnings
- You can use two hyphens together without a space between them instead of an em dash.
- Some keyboard combinations differ according to what country the keyboard is mapped for. These instructions are for a US keyboard map.
- Photo Credit lecture image by razorconcept from Fotolia.com
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