When is a hyphen not a hyphen?

When it’s a dash! Confused? You’re not alone.

For a start, there’s not even a dash on a computer keyboard, though sometimes Microsoft Word will helpfully convert a hyphen to a dash if there’s a space on either side, and sometimes it won’t (or is that just me?)

And then there’s em dashes (—) and en dashes (–). What’s that about? And sometimes they are called em rules or en rules, and who knows the difference or when to use them?

So this is the thing: an em dash (or em rule) is the width of an M and – you guessed it – an en dash (en rule)  is the width of an N, and they do pretty much the same job. Here’s a handy link to the Macquarie Dictionary’s punctuation guide  that will reveal all.

And how do you make one of these dashes?

The mac shortcut for an en dash is option+hyphen, and for an em dash it’s shift+option+hyphen.

On a PC with a number pad it’s alt+minus for an en, and alt+control+minus for an em. If you don’t have a number pad then you have to do some jiggery pokery with ‘insert special character’ … that’s a bit beyond my ken.

Hope this is helpful.

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