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September 23, 2010

Computer Editing Tip: En Dashes

Timothy McAdooby Timothy McAdoo

People sometimes use the terms hyphen and dash interchangeably, but there’s a subtle distinction. In fact, dashes are different from hyphens, and they have a variety of forms.


The Publication Manual shows specific uses for hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes. Today we focus on en dashes.

First, when would you use an en dash?

The Publication Manual shows en dashes for

  • items of equal weight (e.g., test–retest, male–female, the Chicago–London flight),
  • page ranges (e.g., in references, “... Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 718–729.”), and
  • other types of ranges (e.g., 16–30 kHz).

Don't worry, the Publication Manual (p. 97) notes that you can use a single hyphen “if the en dash is not available on your keyboard.” If you prefer to use a true en dash, most keyboards don’t include a key for it, but a simple shortcut is available!

How to Create an En Dash in Microsoft Word
Like many people, I use Microsoft Word as my word processor, even on my Mac. (Shortcuts for other software, like OpenOffice, will vary. Please feel free to share your tips for other programs in the comments section.)

En dashes are easy to create in Microsoft Word:

  • On a PC, hold the Control key and type the minus sign (specifically, the one on the numeric keypad to the right; this shortcut will not work with the one at the top of the keyboard).

    PC keyboard shortcut
  • On a Mac, hold the Option key and type the minus sign (specifically, the one on the top of the keyboard).

    Mac keyboard shortcut
  • Or, you can even copy and paste one of the five en dashes from earlier in this post!


En dashes should not be confused with hyphens, which are used in compound words (e.g., self-esteem) and sometimes with prefixes (meta-analysis). Nor should they be confused with em dashes—the subject of next week’s post!

For more detail on the use of hyphens, en dashes, em dashes, and even minus signs, see page 97 of the Publication Manual.

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