Feedback

What Are En Dashes ( – ) And How Do You Use Them?

In writing, there are three marks that we use in punctuation that are referred to as dashes: the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash. Most people are familiar with the hyphen, but the en dash and the em dash are less commonly used. After all, you typically won’t even find them on your keyboard. However, if you have ever read a sports score or shopped for airline tickets, you may have encountered an en dash without even realizing it.

What is an en dash?

An en dash is a punctuation mark that is typically used to express ranges or to clarify more complex compound words. An en dash resembles a hyphen (-) but is slightly longer (–). Most keyboards don’t have a key reserved for the en dash. It usually needs to be added as a special character on most writing programs.

✏️ Examples of an en dash in a sentence

The following sentences show some examples of when we might use an en dash. 

  • Your homework is to read pages 2545.
  • The Bandwagoners defeated the Underdogs by a score of 76.
  • We took the MondayFriday bus to the zoo.
  • He is a Nobel Prizewinning chemist.
  • She was in charge of several South Koreabased companies.

When to use the en dash

The en dash has specific instances where it is typically used. That being said, people will often use a hyphen instead of an en dash in informal writing in many of these situations. Many style guides follow these general uses of an en dash, but you should consult your style guide or grammar resource of choice to confirm when an en dash should be used.

Ranges, tallies, and relationships

An en dash is used to represent a range or a tally. When read aloud, the en dash is read as the word to or through. Many ranges and results that use an en dash involve numbers:

  • Page numbers: Our homework problems are on pages 10–15.
  • Time limits: Most of my friends work 30–40 hour work weeks.
  • Sports scores: The home team won 2–0.
  • Voting results: By a vote of 55–45, the chamber passed the new bill.
  • Years: The years 1929–1939 were very hard for Americans.

However, the en dash can also represent a range that includes multiple things:

  • I read through the May–September issue of the catalog. (The months between May and September are also covered by the catalog.)
  • We rode the Monday–Friday train to Atlanta. (The train operates on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as well as Monday and Friday.)

Finally, the en dash is also used to indicate a close relationship between two things, such as two opposing forces or two members of a partnership:

  • We looked at media coverage of the Iran–Iraq War.
  • Tight security is maintained at the US–Canada border.

Typically, it is advised not to use an en dash if using the word from or between with a range:

Incorrect: She works from Monday–Friday.
Correct: She works from Monday to Friday.

Incorrect: We use between 10–20 rolls of paper towels a week.
Correct: We use between 10 and 20 rolls of paper towels a week.

Complex compound words

Many compound words use a hyphen or no punctuation at all. However, many style guides consider it proper to use an en dash if a compound word involves a multiple word proper noun or includes another hyphenated compound within it. For example:

  • The coach knew how to play against a Dallas Cowboys–style offense.
  • It was some kind of jack-in-the-box–like gizmo.

Make Your Writing Shine!

Get grammar tips, writing tricks, and more from Thesaurus.com ... right in your inbox!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

How to use an en dash

Grammatically, there is one main thing to be aware of when using an en dash.

No spaces

When using an en dash, we typically don’t put a space before or after the punctuation mark. For example,

 

Incorrect:  The final score was 17 – 10.
Correct: The final score was 17–10.

Improve your writing in a dash: try Grammar Coach™

Not sure if you’re using the hyphen, en dash, or em dash correctly? Check your writing on Thesaurus.com’s Grammar Coach™. This writing tool uses machine learning technology uniquely designed to catch grammar and spelling errors. Its Synonym Swap will find the best nouns, adjectives, and more to help say what you really mean, guiding you toward clearer, stronger, writing.

Do you know how to use colons? Let's take a look!

Previous 5 Types Of Character Traits To Help You Create Your Complex Characters Next What Are Hyphens ( - ) And How Do You Use Them?