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When to Use an En Dash (Definition, Examples, Grammar Rules)

What is an en dash? When should I use it? An en dash is a type of punctuation that is typically used to show a connection between two items (words, numbers, dates). It is one of the three punctuation marks that come with the horizontal symbol, the other ones being the em dash and hyphen.

But the question is – when to use an en dash?

Here’s a look at what exactly is an en dash, and how it can be used in writing. 

En dash
En dash

What is an en dash?

An en dash (–) is a punctuation mark (one of the three dashes) that looks a lot like a hyphen. It is longer than the hyphen but slightly shorter than the em dash. The en dash is typically used to express ranges in dates or numbers or for clarifying complex compound adjectives and words.

So, why is it named the en dash? This is because it is supposed to have the same width as N (the letter).

Typing an en dash

Most keyboards don’t have a special key reserved for typing an en dash. Here is how an en dash is inserted in text using different writing programs –

  • On Mac: Click on the ‘Option’ and Minus (-) keys together.
  • On Windows: Hold down the ‘Alt’ key and type 0150. When the Alt key is released, the en dash will appear.

In word processing programs, the following shortcuts are used to type en dashes

  • Pages: Keep the Num Lock enabled. Click the Option/Alt and Minus keys together.
  • Word: Keep the Num Lock enabled. Click the Option/Ctrl and Minus keys together.
  • Google Docs: Create a shortcut from the Preferences, which can be found in Tools.
When to use an en dash
When to use an en dash

When to use an en dash?

The en dash appears in these few contexts –

1. To mark a range

An en dash is typically used to represent ‘through’ and ‘to’ when marking a range of numbers, dates, or time.


1. Barack Obama was President of the United States from 2009 to 2017.

1. Barack Obama was President of the United States from 2009­­–2017.

2. You would be expected to work 8 to 10 hours per day.

2. You would be expected to work 8–10 hours per day.

3. I can easily eat 2 to 3 pints of ice cream in a day.

3. I can easily eat 2–3 pints of ice cream in a day.

2. In directions and scores

En dashes are also used to represent ‘to’ in directions, votes, and sports scores.


1. The employee union voted 10–7 in favor of holding a strike.

2. The Hungary football team defeated the England team 4–0 yesterday.

3. The Dubai–London flight takes around eight hours.

3. With complex compound adjectives

En dashes are used in complex compound adjectives

  • When one of the elements comprises two words (open compound).
  • When both elements contain hyphenated terms.

En dashes can be useful here to bring more clarity to the sentence.


1. The halls boasted Mughal–style architecture.

2. The house had some beautiful Gothic–era paintings.

3. The band is most reminiscent of Eagles-style music.

En dash vs. em dash
En dash vs. em dash

Difference between an en dash, em dash and hyphen

Many a time, the em dash and en dash are used just like a hyphen. But the usage of these three punctuations differs markedly.

  • A hyphen is used to join words or word sections. For example, long-term, father-in-law, two-fold.
  • An em dash functions a lot like parentheses or commas. It is used for adding extra information that is not essential to make the sentence meaningful.
  • An en dash, which has already been explained, is used in complex compound adjectives and for showing scores, ranges, directions, partnerships, and more.


This explains all about en dashes and when to use an en dash in a sentence. If used correctly, en dashes can be quite useful in making the connection between words clearer.

More punctuation marks (all 26 marks)

.PeriodI got this at the fair.
?Question markHow many trucks does he have?
!Exclamation pointWow! You’re a great rider.
,CommaI like the movie, but the color grading is odd to me.
:ColonHere are some fun ideas for the party: trivia questions, shuffle board, and more.
;SemicolonI’ll visit you once I’m done with work; that’s a promise.
HyphenI have double-life situations.
En dashHow long is a China-Russia fight?
Em dashThe dog—and I’m afraid of four-legged animals—was so adorable.
( )ParenthesesHis favorite team (Chicago Bulls) has a chance to win the title. 
[ ]Square bracketsThe AP writer said “[head] of baseball operations was disappointed.” 
{ }Curly bracketsThe colors {orange, green, lilac, blue} are for the garage.
< >Angle brackets 
“ ”Quotation marksBryan called it a “great situation.”
ApostropheSome of Susan’s clothes are missing.
/Slash or VirguleI’m ordering food/dessert/more.
… EllipsesAccording to the school the “president… was disappointed.”
*Asterisk*Data from The Economist
&AmpersandTiffany & Co.
 •Bullet point• Simple
• Great
• Awesome
#Pound symbol#1 selling
~TildeBryan owns ~10 pairs of shoes.
@At symbol[email protected]
^Caret symbol3^3 = 27
|Pipe symbol 


What are some en dash examples?

En dashes are most commonly used to express ranges like 9–24, or May–September.

How is an en dash different from an em dash?

Besides having different purposes, en dashes are slightly shorter than em dashes, approximately the width of the letter N.



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About the author

Dalia Y.: Dalia is an English Major and linguistics expert with an additional degree in Psychology. Dalia has featured articles on Forbes, Inc, Fast Company, Grammarly, and many more. She covers English, ESL, and all things grammar on GrammarBrain.

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