The Oxbridge Editing Blog 12th October 2023

A Guide to Dashes

12th October 2023
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The humble dash, often overlooked and sometimes misused, is a versatile piece of punctuation that can enhance your writing when used correctly. In this guide, we’ll explore the different types of dashes, their uses, and some common mistakes to avoid.

En Dash

The en dash (–) is so named because it is roughly the width of the letter ‘n’. It is primarily used to indicate a range of values, such as dates, page numbers, or scores. For example:

  • The meeting will be held on 10–12 October.
  • The article is found on pages 45–50.
  • The final score was 3–1.

Note that there are no spaces on either side of the en dash when it is used in this way.

Em Dash

The em dash (—) is roughly the width of the letter ‘m’ and is often used to create a break in a sentence, similar to parentheses or commas. It can be used to add emphasis or additional information. For example:

  • The project – which was completed ahead of schedule – was a huge success.
  • She decided to go to the party — even though she knew she’d regret it in the morning.


The hyphen (-) is the shortest of the three dashes and is used to connect words or parts of words. It is most commonly used in compound words and to join prefixes to words. For example:

  • The company offers a wide range of eco-friendly products.
  • The children are well-behaved.
  • Pre-emptive action is often necessary in such situations.

It’s important to note that not all compound words require a hyphen. In some cases, the words are written as separate words (e.g. ice cream), while in others they are joined together without a hyphen (e.g. notebook). It’s always a good idea to consult a dictionary if you’re unsure.

Common Mistakes

One of the most common mistakes people make with dashes is using them interchangeably. While they may look similar, each dash has a specific purpose and should be used accordingly. 


Dashes are a useful tool that can add clarity and emphasis to your writing when used correctly. By understanding the differences between en dashes, em dashes, and hyphens, you can ensure your writing is clear, concise, and professional. 

And if you’re ever in doubt, we are here to help. Contact us today to see how we can improve your writing and take it to the next level.