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The em and en dash

The em and en dash

The dash is not the same as the hyphen. They are both horizontal lines, but the dash is twice as long as the hyphen. And they have different roles to play in a sentence. There are actually two types of dashes - the ‘em’ dash, and the ‘en’ dash.

One of the main uses of the em dash is to separate parenthetical parts (parts that can be removed without losing the sentence’s basic meaning) of a sentence from the main part:

The ship - passengers, crew, pets, food, even the band - sank swiftly to the ocean’s depths.

Parenthetical elements can also be separated from the rest of the sentence using commas. So when do we use commas and when do we use dashes? Well, when the parenthetical element is complex and has its own punctuation, such as commas or phrases, use a dash; otherwise, use a hyphen.

You can use the em dash in a script to show a sudden change of thought:

BENNY: OK, let’s go to the - did you lock the back door?

The en dash is supposed to be in between the length of a hyphen and an em dash. However, in many font styles, it is impossible to tell the difference between the en and em dashes - they appear to be the same length. Use the en dash when you’re indicating a ‘to’ relationship between two things:

The meeting runs 9 am - 11 am.