You don’t hear as much about them as other dashes, but you’ve most likely seen them around. En dashes (–) can denote a range or connect the endpoints of a route. They can also show a contrast or connection between two words. You can use them to replace the words to, and, or versus. An en dash is longer than a hyphen (–) and shorter than an em dash (—). It usually appears directly between the numbers or words it’s connecting, without spaces.
You’ll often see en dashes connecting numbers to show a range. Sometimes the range is approximate, as in “There were 50–75 people at the event.” Other times, it’s inclusive, as in “The story is on pages 19–83.”
Similarly, it can connect a range of dates, as in “She’s going on vacation from January 4–February 1.” Try to avoid using an en dash in situations where it could be mistaken for the minus sign. That can be confusing.
An en dash can replace the word to when it shows the endpoints of a route, as in “The San Francisco–Denver flight was delayed.” Conversely, when there’s a hyphen between two locations, it implies they form a single region. For example, “New York City–Long Island” refers to the region encompassing both New York City and Long Island.
The en dash can show either competition or partnership between two people or groups. In the phrase “Giants–A’s game,” the en dash implies the word versus.
On the other hand, the “Parks–Bukowski paper” implies a paper written in partnership by both Parks and Bukowski. The “United States–Canada trade agreement” refers to an equal agreement between both countries.
In traditional metal typesetting, an em unit referred to the distance from the top to the bottom of a single piece of type. An en unit referred to half this distance. The widths of the em and en dashes matched these units. Today, the en dash is about half as long as an em dash, while the hyphen is about half as long as an en dash.
The longer em dash is usually used to separate out asides in a sentence or denote a pause. Some style guides prefer using the en dash for creating asides. When you use the en dash this way, you should add spaces around the dashes. Check your individual style guide to be sure. If you aren’t using a style guide, the most important thing is to just stay consistent throughout your work.
Typing an En Dash
Typing an en dash is a little different depending which operating system you’re using. In most word processing programs (like Microsoft Word or Google Docs), you can find it listed under Special Characters or Symbols. Most of these programs (as well as some email clients) will even autocorrect if you type –. You may be using en dashes without even realizing it!
In Microsoft Word, you can type an en dash by pressing the Ctrl key and the – on your number pad. On a PC, you can type an em dash anywhere by pressing Alt and 0150 on the number pad. On a Mac, you can press Option and –.