Simply dashing part two: the en dash

In part two of this series, we have reached the middle of our longest to shortest dash/hyphen set. The en dash: not quite an em dash, not quite a hyphen, and not quite as useful as either. I’m really selling this blog post, aren’t I?

But it’s actually important to learn the proper use of the en dash because an untrained eye might think an em dash or a hyphen is being used, when it’s actually an en dash. (The en dash is not as long as the em dash and not as short as a hyphen, but the lengths are just close enough that it can be easy to confuse.) And if you don’t use an en dash in its appropriate circumstances, not only will you make a punctuation error, but the entire realm of horizontal punctuation might implode and start eating itself. So, it’s important, okay?

En dash basics
Like the em dash, the en dash received its name from typesetting. This dash is the same length as the letter n, so it is thus called an en dash.

The en dash is used:

  • with number ranges
  • to signify to
  • with compound adjectives

Number ranges
The en dash can be used to replace the phrase up to and including, through, and to in number ranges.

Take a look at these examples:

David Bowie’s golden years were 1972–1979.
I have to read chapters 6–8 for homework.
The gallery will be open 2–11 p.m. Friday.
The Sharks beat the Jets, 14–5.

However, if the sentence has the word from before the first number in the number range, do not use an en dash. Instead, use the word to between the numbers:

From 1987 to 1989, Mark had a mullet haircut.
I will be unavailable from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Likewise, if the word between comes before the first number in the number range, do not use an en dash. Instead, use the word and.

Between October 1 and December 1, I will be on vacation.
You can catch me at my office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The en dash is also used with unfinished date ranges. Examples of this are birthdates for people who are still alive and the start date for an ongoing publication or program:

David Bowie (1947–) is a famous British rocker.
Rolling Stone (1967–) has covered David Bowie many times through the years.

En dash to signify to
Outside of number ranges, the en dash can also be used to replace the word to:

The Berlin–Munich train leaves at 3 p.m.
Their marriage lasted May–August 2011.

En dashes with compound adjectives
Says The Chicago Manual of Style section 6.80, “The en dash can be used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound or when both elements consist of hyphenated compounds.”

Open compounds are compounds of two or more words with spaces in them that express one idea (such as salad dressing and science fiction).

Here are examples of open compounds in a compound adjective that use an en dash:

the country music–influenced band
the pre–World War Three generation

Here are examples of an en dash used when both elements of a compound adjective are hyphenated:

the semi-elegant–semi-successful party
the non-business–non-pleasure category

How to make an en dash
Like with the em dash, Microsoft Word automatically makes an en dash in some situations. For instance, if you are typing a number range and type a space-hyphen-space between the two numbers, Word automatically changes the hyphen to an en dash. However, The Chicago Manual of Style advises not to place spaces around en dashes.

You can always add an en dash by using these steps:

  1. In Microsoft Word, go to the Insert tab.
  2. Click Symbol from the drop down box.
  3. Click Special Characters.
  4. Click En Dash.
  5. Click Insert.

Spaces around en dash?
As I mentioned above, The Chicago Manual of Style advises not to places spaces around en dashes. However, be sure to check for spacing specifics in any house style guide or other style guide that applies to what you are writing.

If you missed part one of the series, you can find it here. And be sure to check back for the final installment to learn how and when to use hyphens.

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3 thoughts on “Simply dashing part two: the en dash

  1. Pingback: When to correct people’s grammar mistakes | Grammar Party

  2. “The en dash is also used with unfinished date ranges. Examples of this are birthdates for people who are still alive and the start date for an ongoing publication or program:

    David Bowie (1947–) is a famous British rocker.”

    I hate to say it, dear olden day people of 2011. So I won’t. Nothing’s gonna touch you in these golden years.

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