Professional writing: Hyphens, en- and em-dashes

Using en- and em-dashes — and when not to use a hyphen

Woman at a pool table, taking aim at the balls.

There are many instances of incorrectly used hyphens in our web content — i.e. people using hyphens instead en- or em-dashes. These three punctuation marks have distinct roles in professional writing. Knowing how to properly use them can not only improve the quality of your writing, but your confidence as well.

Opting for the hyphen instead of the en- or em-dash has become a lazy habit of many writers but using en- and em-dashes is easy and results in professionally presented content when used correctly; it’s just a matter of getting familiar with the typographical rules, the short-cut keys, and using them!

It's just a matter of getting familiar with when and how to use them. Your professional writing will take a boost.

Typographic rules


Hyphens are used to join words in a compound construction, or separate syllables of a word as a compound adjective. For example:

•cruelty-free eggs
•en- or em-dash.


An en-dash (a bit longer than a hyphen) is used to connect values in a numerical range. For example:

•during the years 1939–1955
•pages 31–32 are relevant.


An em-dash (a bit longer than an en-dash) is typically used as a stand-in for a comma or parenthesis, and indicates a break in thought. For example:

•UNE — the first regional university in Australia
•Em-dashes separate phrases — or even just a word — in a sentence.

Here’s how to insert en- and em-dashes: use these short-cut keys …

Shortcut keys


  • Em-dash: shift-option + hyphen

  • En-dash: option + hyphen


  • Em-dash: ctrl + alt + minus (use the number pad for the minus).

  • En-dash: ctrl + minus (use the number pad for the minus).

Happy editing!