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Punctuation Pointers: Dashes

Dashes are a commonly used symbol in writing, but knowing which one to use and how to type it can get confusing. Here’s a breakdown of the hyphen, en dash, and em dash as well as their proper usages and where to find them on your keyboard for Apple products.

The Hyphen (-)

This is the shortest of the three dashes and is usually used to connect words to form compound words or compound adjectives. For example: part-time, well-being, and camera-ready all use hyphens. We will dedicate another blog to the use of hyphens in the future, as it can be confusing keeping all their rules straight. On a Mac keyboard, it is the key next to the 0, and on the iPhone it is the main dash button.


The En Dash (–)

The en dash is commonly forgotten in modern-day writing. It is longer than the hyphen but shorter than the em dash, named so because it is the length of the letter “n.” The en dash is used to convey ranges, whether this be between numbers or time. For example: “There were 7–9 birds on the fence.” “The event will be held from 4 p.m.–9 p.m.” On a Mac computer, hold down the option button and then press the dash button, the same one used for the hyphen. On the iPhone, hold down the dash key and a list of other options will appear. It is the dash in the middle of the other two dashes. If it is next to a number, you can also tap the dash button twice and it will insert an en dash.


The Em Dash (—)

The em dash is the longest of the three dashes—named so because it is the length of the letter “m”—and can be used for a variety of reasons. Mainly it is seen in text as an interruption or to explain an idea further. For example: “Multiple languages are spoken in Canada—English, French, and Native languages.” Two dashes can also be used in a sentence to separate information (as seen in the first sentence of this paragraph). For example: “You are the friend—the only friend—who offered to help me.” In this sentence, the phrase “the only friend” is secondary information, and if it were removed, the sentence would still make sense: “You are the friend who offered to help me.” Using two commas can accomplish the same purpose, but sometimes it’s easier to use em dashes if the sentence already has a lot of commas. For example: “Today I picked up apples, oranges, bananas—my favorite fruit—and grapes from the store.” In this case, the dashes clearly show “my favorite fruit” is side information and not part of the list. To type the em dash on a Mac, hold down the option, shift, and dash button (same as the other two, next to the 0). On the iPhone, you can tap the dash button twice (if numbers don’t precede it) or hold it down for a list of more options and select the longest one to the right of the others.

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