en dashes

*NOTE: The size difference between en dashes and hyphens can be very difficult to spot. Pay close attention to how the usage can help you notice an en dash.

These are the big brothers of hyphens but the little brothers of em dashes, and they have total middle-child syndrome: very few people notice them. They fill in for hyphens when you’ve got two or more words on one side, so it’s like you need the extra bit of length to rope in the extra word(s). They also show ranges, pretty much replacing the word to.

Professional Examples

  • What holds together these “paranoid politics” — antigovernment, anti–global capital but pro–small capitalist, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic — is a rhetoric of masculinity.

~from Michael Kimmel’s “Gender, Class, and Terrorism”

  • Kennedy gamely took, and lost, a bet with Schumer on a Red Sox–Yankees series a decade ago.

~from Evan Thomas’s “What Teddy Can Teach Us,” Newsweek Sept. 7, 2009

  • There were several of them, all Ivy League–educated, all young, all ambitious.

~from Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam

  • There’s still a pile of musty World War II–era pup tents in the corner some ancient church member thought we could use on the mission trip.

~from Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost

  • Moreover, this mini–El Dorado of energy independence and its surrounding neighborhood will be designed to have minimal need for cars and trucks.

~from Amanda Griscom and Will Dana’s “A Green Ground Zero” in The Nation

  • But the students don’t have the urbane, Oscar Wilde–type demeanor that should go with this view. Oscar was cheerful, funny, confident, strange.

~from Mark Edmundson’s “On the Uses of a Liberal Education”

  • The Arrivals Lounge was a press of love and eagerness, because the Bombay–Cochin flight was the flight that all the Foreign Returnees came home on.

~from Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

  • He looks at the US and all he sees is a battle between good and evil, the evil Bush–Cheney–Rumsfield axis on the one hand and the good terrorists on the other along with their friends the cultural relativists.

~from J. M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year

How En Dashes Work

The en dash is shorter than an em dash and longer than a hyphen. It gets its name from being originally the length of the letter n as opposed to the longer em dash (length of an m).

From This TO That

The en dash can stand in for the word to. Examples would include sports scores (e.g. 35–28), lifespans (1899–1990), transportation routes (the Port Angeles–Victoria ferry), etc. In Coetzee’s example above, it also replaces to between the names Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfield as though drawing lines between them to make a triangle (axis).

Replacing a Hyphen in Open Compounds

The en dash also replaces a connecting hyphen when part of what’s being connected needs to stay separated by a space. Since it’s longer than a hypehn, the en dash shows the reader that a longer connection is being made: it lassos in not just the words touching the en dash but the extra word(s) as well.

For example, when we see “Ivy League–educated,” the en dash tells us we’re not just saying “League-educated,” we’re talking about the Ivy League. When we see “anti–global capital,” we know it’s not “anti-global” but opposed to global capital. The open compound can be on either side of the en dash.

Because this is the more complicated of the en dash uses, almost all of the professional examples above show this type.


En dashes don’t exist on the keyboard and have to be formatted. Here on WordPress, type two hyphens together and WordPress will change it to an en dash when you publish your comment.

In Microsoft Word, you can create an automatic en dash by typing a word (or number), a space, a hyphen, a space, another word (or number) and another space. The program will lengthen the hyphen to an en dash as soon as you’ve typed that last space. Once it’s been formatted, you can go back and remove the extra spaces if you want.

Another option is to insert it as a symbol. You can select it from a list of symbols or hold Alt and type 0150 on the numeric keypad (not the numbers at the top of the keyboard); on a Mac, use option-hyphen.


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