Short quiz: what’s the difference between -, –, and —?

If you said length, well, yeah, size does matter. Kinda. But it is more about how you use it, of course!

The dash [ – ], which is created by typing the “minus” key, is used in compound words. Like in the sentence, “Toby is quite good-looking.” Or “Greg is awe-mazing”. You get my drift.

The ndash [ – ], which is created by typing the CTRL + number – or ASCII code “&#150” (ALT+0150 on number pad) or HTML code “–”, is used between a range of numbers, values or distances. For instance, “Lihsa could easily pass for 30–40 years old!”

The mdash [ — ], which is created by typing ASCII code “&#151” (ALT+0151 on number pad) or HTML code “—”, is used to set off a phrase or paranthetical—instead of actually using a nerdy pair of parantheses.

Note: you can use two ndashes––or two dashes–in place of the mdash.

But, please, leave out the spaces before and after the mdash. Otherwise, you lose all grammar-street cred if you don’t.

Have a fantabulous grammarous Friday!

  • Ben A.

    Aww, what about non-breaking spaces or hair spaces around dashes? That shouldn't lose me street cred!

  • Haha, yeah, I agree with Ben that kerning should be allowed, but full spaces should not. What prompted this discussion of dashes?

  • It's typography, not grammar. And – is a hyphen.

    And typographically speaking, a space-en-dash-space is better looking and smoother to read than an em-dash with no spaces. Really, the only good use for the em-dash is to set off dialogue.

    See Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style.