A-Z Challenge 2015: D is for Dashes

What are dashes? En Dash and Em Dash. A dash (—) is a punctuation mark with several uses. A dash should not be confused with a hyphen (-) which is used as a joiner in compound adjectives (e.g., first-class restaurant) and compound nouns (e.g., water-bottle).


  • An em dash can be used to credit a quotation.
  • An en dash can be used between time and dates.
  • An em dash can replace three dots when used as a pause for effect. 
  • Em dashes can be used as parentheses.

Here are the four main dash-like characters ordered longest to shortest:

Name Punctuation How To Get One
em dash Ctl + Alt + minus (on the numeric pad)
minus sign minus (on the numeric pad)
hyphen – (the key to the right of “0”)
en dash Ctl + minus (on the numeric pad)

I never knew how to use an em dash properly until about 4 years ago. A member of my writing group gave me a simple rule to follow:

Change your direction–like this–and if you want, come back again.

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12 Responses

  1. oh my gosh this was awesome! the grammar nerd in me is so excited and i can’t wait for the rest of your posts. great fun!

    • R.K. Grow says:

      I am glad you are enjoying the posts Stephanie. I just saw your letter D and I now need to go to your website. I love David Duchovny, the X-Files, Scully, etc. Do you know Fox is running a 6 episode season and they are shooting this summer in Vancouver? The geek in me is so HAPPY.

  2. Nick Wilford says:

    Spaces on either side of em dashes as well? I like ’em, but Microsoft Word seems to get confused between them and hyphens too!

    • R.K. Grow says:

      That is a good question Nick. I’ve always been taught that you should not have a space on either side with an en or em dash. I’ll have to check that out.

  3. lv2trnscrb says:

    This was interesting because I didn’t realize there were em dashes and en dashes. I think I’m using dashes wrong when I use them.


  4. Liesel Hill says:

    About the only thing I ever use them for is parentheses. As asides for my characters, especially in the narrative. 😀

    • R.K. Grow says:

      I am getting better at using them. They can take the place of commas sometimes or to connect two thoughts in a sentence. So much to remember and learn!!

  5. Paula Kaye says:

    Once again you educated me. I have never heard of em dashes or en dashes!

    Smidgen Snippets & Bits

    • R.K. Grow says:

      I didn’t learn how to use them until about 4 years ago. I’d seen them but didn’t know how to use them or what they were called.

  6. Djinnia says:

    Those have always confused me.

  7. Mandy says:

    I had no idea. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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