Meet the Hyphen, En Dash, and Em Dash

As a tutor, it’s exhilarating to teach a student the differences between the three kinds of lines we use in sentences. Most of the time, the student is at least good at pretending to be interested in my rants. It’s a fun time for me, and I feel like an excellent tutor who actually knows something about her craft.

As an editor, it’s exhausting to have to change a hyphen into an em dash or an en dash into a hyphen. I love editing, but sometimes there’s a point where I get tired of editing the same things that are simple proofreading fixes.

As a writer that has to edit her own work, it’s extremely annoying to found that I have, once again, used an en dash instead of an em dash or didn’t have a hyphen lengthen into an en dash like I thought it would. While readers will likely know what you mean regardless of correct line length, it can be roughly equated to saying that means the your/you’re distinction doesn’t matter because the reader knows which one is meant.

That causes me immense pain to think about.

So, for people struggling with grasping the differences, here is a quick and simple way to know whether you need a hyphen (-), en dash (–), or em dash (—).

Hyphen: the shortest of the lines and is used to connect certain words or descriptives together.
Example: Jasmine is a six-year-old cat that loves to bat her home-made toys underneath furniture.

En dash: takes the space of a typed ‘n’ and is used to show “through” when it comes to dates, times, etc.
Example: Tuesday–Thursday, 10am–9pm I can be found at Sam Houston.

Em dash: takes the space of a typed ‘m’ and can be used like a comma to separate parts of a sentence.
Example: My best friend—an undergraduate at LSU—is graduating with a French degree soon.

Now imagine trying to read a sentence where the line lengths are all wrong:
Jasmine-my 6–year–old cat-enjoys her loud and high–pitch voice, especially if it’s in the quiet, dark hours of 10pm—4am.

Is it completely incomprehensible? No. Is it a headache nonetheless? Yes.

I would like to believe that the biggest problem with people not using these correctly is simply not knowing how to make these various line lengths. Well, I can fix that! Click here to find out different ways to insert an en dash or an em dash into your Word document.

With all that said, happy editing and happy writing, knowing that you now have more knowledge about lines!

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