Em dash vs En dash

Punctuation marks are like traffic signals for reading—they guide the reader through the text. Among these marks, dashes are often misunderstood. Specifically, the em dash and the en dash can be confusing. Let’s explore the differences between these two types of dashes and how to use them correctly.

What is an Em Dash?


An em dash is a long dash that is used to add emphasis or show a break in a sentence. It is called an “em dash” because it is roughly the width of the letter ‘m’.


  1. To Show Interruption: Em dashes can be used to show an abrupt change in a sentence.
  • Example: “I was walking my dog—oh, look, a squirrel!”
  1. To Emphasize: Em dashes can be used to emphasize a point or a phrase.
  • Example: “She was an excellent writer—a true master of the craft.”
  1. To Separate Lists: When a list is complex, em dashes can be used to make it clearer.
  • Example: “The conference will have speakers from various fields—science, arts, and business—and from different countries.”

How to Type

  • On a PC: Alt + 0151
  • On a Mac: Option + Shift + Minus

What is an En Dash?


An en dash is shorter than an em dash but longer than a hyphen. It is called an “en dash” because it is roughly the width of the letter ‘n’.

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  1. To Show Range: En dashes are often used to indicate a range of numbers.
  • Example: “The meeting will last from 2–4 p.m.”
  1. To Connect Ideas: En dashes can connect words that describe a relationship or conflict.
  • Example: “The mother–daughter relationship can be complex.”
  1. To Show Connection: En dashes can link two words that are closely related but need a slight separation.
  • Example: “The New York–London flight was delayed.”

How to Type

  • On a PC: Alt + 0150
  • On a Mac: Option + Minus

Em dash vs En dash Key Differences

  1. Length:
  • Em dash is longer.
  • En dash is shorter.
  1. Usage:
  • Em dash is for emphasis and breaks in sentences.
  • En dash is for showing ranges and connections.
  1. Typing:
  • Different keyboard shortcuts are used for each.

Why Knowing the Difference Matters

Understanding the difference between em dashes and en dashes can make your writing clearer and more professional. Using them incorrectly can confuse the reader and may change the meaning of your sentences.


Both em dashes and en dashes have their unique roles in writing. Em dashes are used for emphasis and to show breaks, while en dashes are used to indicate ranges and connections. Knowing when to use each can enhance your writing and make it easier for the reader to understand your message.

I hope this guide helps you understand the differences between em dashes and en dashes. Feel free to comment if you have any questions!

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