How to use hyphens and dashes
Including your free printable hyphens and dashes checklist (PDF)
Although hyphens and dashes look similar, they have very different functions.
This is a hyphen -
This is an en dash –
This is an em dash —
What is the difference between a hyphen and a dash?
A hyphen is a punctuation mark that joins words (or parts of words) together. Hyphens are not interchangeable with dashes. There should be no spaces before or after a hyphen.
Hyphens are used:
in written numbers: e.g. thirty-three, twenty-one
in written fractions: e.g. two-thirds, three-fifths
in compound modifiers: e.g. left-handed player, child-friendly restaurant, five-year-old girl
in compound nouns: e.g. father-in-law, great-grandson, second-guess, double-cross
Note: a compound modifier is two or more words that are joined together to describe the noun that follows. A compound noun is a noun that combines two or more words.
A dash is a punctuation mark that is commonly used to show elements in a range, emphasise
a phrase or indicate a non-essential phrase in a sentence. There are two kinds of dashes:
en dashes (–) and em dashes (—).
En dashes are used:
to link numbers in a range (closed up): e.g. 1995–2002, Monday–Friday, 9.00–5.30
between words that have equal weight: e.g. Dover–Calais crossing, New York–London flight
instead of a colon to emphasise a phrase (spaced): e.g. There was only one thing she could do – run (more common in UK style)
instead of parentheses to indicate a non-essential phrase (spaced): e.g. Her car – a red Ford Focus – was parked on the drive (more common in UK style)
Em dashes are used:
for sentence interruptions in fiction (closed up): e.g. 'Why did you—?'
instead of a colon to emphasise a phrase (closed up): e.g. There was only one thing she could do—run (more common in US style)
instead of parentheses to indicate a non-essential phrase (closed up): e.g. Her car—a red Ford Focus—was parked on the drive (more common in US style)
Note: dashes are considered to be informal punctuation, so if you are writing for business or education, use formal punctuation when emphasising a phrase or indicating a non-essential phrase in a sentence.