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How and When To Type En and Em Dashes On a Mac

Thursday February 7, 2019. 03:00 PM , from MacMost
Did you know that that there are three different types of dashes: the hyphen, en dash and em dash? Most people use the hyphen for everything, but the en and em dashes should be used in many cases instead of a hyphen. Learn how to type them and when to use them.

Video Transcript CLICK TO EXPAND
So whether writing a book, an email, or text message a lot of us like to be grammatically correct when typing on our computers. Now this is one thing when talking about letters and words. But grammar also includes punctuation. One type of punctuation is the dash. But there actually is no dash character. There are three different types of dashes. One of them, the one we use most often, is actually not even called a dash. It's called a hyphen. This is what we get by default. Many of us use the hyphen for all of the different dashes.

So, for instance, you may want to type a compound word like this, well-liked, and using the hyphen on your keyboard. It's usually to the right of the zero on American keyboards and is the correct one of use. It's not a dash but a hyphen. Here are some other examples. High-volume. Non-existant. Now, sometimes, depending upon which dictionary you're using, you may not use a hyphen on any of these. But if you do make sure you just type the plain normal hyphen that's on your keyboard. That's what it's mainly there for.

It's also used to separate numbers in things like telephone numbers. It can be used also in names. So when you see a hyphenated name you would use the hyphen. But that's pretty much it. Those are the only places you should be using a hyphen. But there are other places you would be using a dash. But these are different characters.

So the first type of dash I want to talk about is called the en dash. It's usually spelled en although there's some debate on how to actually write down the word en dash. It's called en dash because the dash is about the size, the width, of the letter n. You use this in cases where you're going to have a range of things. Like a range of numbers. So, for instance, if you want to say seven to ten you could say 7 and then the en dash to 10. Not the hyphen.

How do you type the en dash? Well you hold the Option key down on your keyboard and you press the hyphen key. This gives you a different character than the regular hyphen. So notice the regular hyphen how short that is. Option and hyphen gives you the en dash, a longer one. You could use it for any kind of range. 1990-1999. July-October. That's pretty much what you use the en dash for.

Now there's a third type of dash. The em dash. This is a wider dash and you can guess from the name that it's supposed to be the width of the letter m, rather than the letter n. There's an easy way to remember it. n is a shorter letter and m is twice of an n in width so that's the em dash.
What's the em dash used for? Well, it's used basically just like parentheses or as an aside in some text. So something like this. The quick brown fox--though he looks more red than brown to me--jumps over the lazy dog. Now to type the em dash you hold the Option and the Shift key down. So a hyphen is just pressing the hyphen key. The en dash is Option, hyphen. The em dash is Shift, Option, hyphen.

Now notice I didn't put any extra spaces around the em dash. This is because, in most fonts, the em dash actually includes a little bit of extra space to the left or right. You can see it here in these characters. So you don't need any extra space and in most grammar guides I see that you're not supposed to put any extra space around the em dash.

Now there are some other uses for the em dash. For instance, when using quotes. So there are actually even more than this but these are the ones typically used. For instance in typesetting there's actually a slightly different character for using a minus like in a mathematical formula. But on a computer, in almost all fonts even if there is a minus character included, the hyphen and the minus character are indistinguishable. In fact when doing work on a computer and wanting to perform calculations in Spotlight or Calculator or whatever you're using the hyphen as the minus key anyway. So it's kind of just a given rule now on computing that you use the hyphen when you mean minus even though technically it's a different character.

But as far as the en dash and the em dash if you're worried about grammar in the rest of what you type you should probably look into using these characters in the Option, hyphen for the en dash and the Shift, Option, hyphen for the em dash and using them in your text as well as the rest of all the grammar rules that you follow.

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