In Writing, Are You Confused with eN-Dashes, eM-Dashes and Hyphens?

Avoid hyphen, en-dash and em-dash (ndash and mdash, n-dash and m-dash) Confusion

The use of dashes is inconsistent in lots of writing—regardless of the writer is (amateur or long-timer). The hyphen, em-dash and en-dash crop-up all the time while you’re using Microsoft Word, but most don’t know why and we use the different dashes inconsistently.

What’s the visual difference between the n-dash and m-dash?

The n-dash is about as wide as an uppercase N; the m-dash (or em-dash) is as wide as an M. 


 An en-dash is used to connect values in a range or that are related. A good rule is to use it when you’re expressing a “to” relationship. 

  • in years 2001–2010
  • pages 63–66 are relevant
  • the Seattle Seahawks trounced the Denver Broncos 43–8

An em-dash is typically used as a stand-in for a comma or parenthesis to separate out phrases—or even just a word—in a sentence for various reasons.

  • School is based on the three R’s—reading, writing, and ’rithmetic
  • Against all odds, Martha—the unluckiest woman in love—discovered the love of her life.
  • I sense something—a feeling I’ve not felt before.

A hyphen separates syllables of a word, like during a line break

  • pro-America

  • caged-free eggs

  • self-publishing

TIP: you can create both the en-dash or em-dash quickly in Microsoft Word

Automatically created in Word when you type “something – something” (word-space-hyphen-space-word).

Automatically created in Word when you type “something–something” (word-hyphen-hyphen-word).


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Judith Briles is a book publishing expert and coach. She empowers authors and is the Founder of, a membership organization created for the serious author who wants to be seriously successful. She’s been writing about and conducting workshops on publishing since the 80s. Judith is the author of 33 books including Author YOU: Creating and Building Your Author and Book Platforms (ForeWord IndieFab Book of the Year), Snappy Sassy Salty: Wise Words for Authors and Writers and a speaker at publishing conferences. The CrowdFunding Guide for Authors & Writers was published in June 2015.

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