Q: I’m confused. What is the difference between an em dash and an en dash? How can I type them easily using Microsoft Word?
A: A dash is not a hyphen, although many writers err by substituting one for the other. The hyphen key is located to the right of the zero on the keyboard. Words such as twenty-one or self-addressed use a hyphen.
Before we look at methods for inserting dashes, let's discuss what they are and when they’re used. Typographically, an em dash is the width of the font size. For example, a 12-point font would produce a 12-point em dash.
Think of an em dash as the width of a capital M. An en dash is half the width of an em dash, or it may help you to think of an en dash as the width of a capital N. You'll (usually) use an en dash to denote a range, such as “Pages 23–27.” An em dash denotes an interruption in a sentence such as this one: The man was shocked—no, astounded—by what was said next.
The easiest way to enter either type of dash is to let Word do it for you, and that's where the AutoCorrect feature can help. Enter two hyphen characters between the two words you want to connect, and Word will convert the hyphens into an em dash. To insert an en dash, insert a space character before and after the two hyphens. If this doesn't work, the AutoCorrect option is probably disabled. You can check its status as follows:
1. In Word 2010 or 2013, click the File tab and choose Options. In Word 2007, click the Office button and click Word Options. In Word 2003, choose AutoCorrect Options from the Tools menu and skip to step 4.
2. In the left pane, choose Proofing.
3. In the AutoCorrect Options section, click the AutoCorrect Options button.
4. Click the “AutoFormat As You Type” tab.
5. Check the “Hyphens (--) with (—)” option to enable it.
6. Click OK twice.
When you need two hyphens, you can temporarily override AutoCorrect by pressing [Ctrl]+Z after Word converts the two hyphens into a dash. Word will remove the dash, leaving the two hyphens.
If you choose to leave the AutoCorrect option disabled, use one of the following methods to enter a dash:
- Press [Ctrl]+[Alt]+- to enter an em dash. You must use the minus sign (-) on the numeric keypad, not the hyphen character on the alphanumeric keypad. To enter an en dash, press [Ctrl]+- on the numeric keypad.
- Hold down the [Alt] key and type 0151 on the numeric keypad to enter an em dash. Make sure to press NumLock first. For an en dash, press 0150.
- Click the Insert tab, click Symbol in the Symbols group, and then click More Symbols. In Word 2003, choose Symbol from the Insert menu. Then click the Special Characters tab, highlight the em dash or en dash item, and click Insert.