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Punctuation Guide


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A dash can appear in two different lengths. However, there are different rules of spacing that accompany these dashes. The shorter of the two, the en dash or en rule, is about twice the length of a hyphen. The longer of the two, the em dash or em rule, is about twice as long as the en dash.

For rules on hyphens, please page down to point #3.


#1 En Dashes: When using an en dash, there are spaces on either side. In Microsoft Word, the program creates these dashes for you, and generally they translate properly into the fiction software. If you type a space, one hypen, another space, the following word and space again, it will create an en dash.

The principle use of the en dash as to connect numbers and, less often, words. Sometimes, an en dash is used in the formation of compound adjectives (see example below). In this case, there would be no spaces. You would need to remove the spaces after Word converts the hyphen (see above paragraph).

  • The war spanned the years 1914–1917.
  • You will find the chapter on Werewolves on pages 394–396.
  • She placed him in a hospital–nursing home facility. ("hospital" versus "nursing home")
  • The post–War years were particularly hard. ("post" versus "War" – two different time periods)
  • Less Commonly: He expected her to change – for he had done much changing himself in the past few months – but she remained the same.

#2 Em Dashes: The em dash is the most commonly used dash. To avoid confusion, no more than two em dashes should be used in a sentence. If more than two phrases need to be set off, use parentheses.

When showing an abrupt change in thought or sentence structure or an interruption in dialogue, use the em dash. In order for the two hyphens to convert properly, you need to type a letter after the two hyphens, your end quotes, and then go back to delete that single letter. If you do not do this, the hyphens won’t convert and your end quotes will be reversed (appear as beginning quotes).

  • "Hey, wait a minute! You can’t—"
  • "I assure you, I would never—," she began but stopped short.
  • Broken lives, broken hearts, broken promises—such were the results of war.
  • My friends—that is, my former friends—ganged up on me.

Em dashes are also most commonly used as a substituting device.

  • He told her to "F— off." (substituting device)

#3 How to Create En and Em Dashes: This process will work on this site and in your word processing program.
  • En dashes:
    • Mac: Option-hyphen
    • Windows: ALT 0150 (Hold down the ALT key and type 0150 on the numeric keypad.)

  • Em dashes:
    • Mac: Shift-Option-hyphen
    • Windows: ALT 0151 (Hold down the ALT key and type 0151 on the numeric keypad.)


Hyphens are used to join together words or parts of words to show that they are to be read as a single unit. This is most common in adjectives that describe a noun, but can also be used for clarity.

  • He adopted a zero-tolerance approach.
  • She was a well-known figure in the community.
  • The three-year-old boy was too young to read that book.
  • He has twenty-odd cousins. ~or~ He has twenty odd cousins. (clarity)

Hyphens can never be used in lieu of dashes. Not only is it against punctuation rules, but readers could mistake it as hyphenated words, and it would be confusing.

  • Wrong: He seemed a little agitated - overly so.

The general rule with hyphenated adjectives is that if there is a preceding adverb (-ly), it is usually not hyphenated (unless the two words are so closely related that it has become a fixed expression).

  • It was a beautifully kept garden.
  • He and his equally snobbish wife.
  • She became a fully-fledged member of society.

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