I work as a writer, editor and proofreader. If I had a dollar for every dash I have corrected, I would no longer have to work at all—dashes are one of the most misunderstood forms of punctuation. To help end dash suffering, here’s a quick-reference guide for dashes.

As a university co-op student, working as a proofreader at Harlequin, I was indoctrinated into the Chicago Manual of Style; since then, I have considered it my punctuation bible. In case this article does not quench your thirst for understanding the nuances of dashes, here’s a Chicago Manual of Style Article on Dashes.

There are 3 types of dashes:

(Note the absence of spaces around these dashes.)

Em Dash

In typesetting, a line as wide as the letter ‘m’.

Used to separate parts of a sentence (rather like parentheses).

Looks like this—sitting within a sentence—to separate parts.

In HTML: —

En Dash

In typesetting, a line as wide as the letter ‘n’.

Used to connect things related by distance, like dates and numbers:


In HTML: –


A very short little line.

Sometimes incorporates spaces, depending on the situation.

Used to connect very closely related things, like compound words or when two words work together to modify a noun:

A blue-green colour.
Have a great rest-of-the-week!

In HTML: – (on the keyboard, same as a minus sign)