Hyphen, en dash or em dash — when and how?

When to use a Hyphen, En Dash or an Em Dash and how to type each character on Windows, Linux and Mac.

  • Hyphen
    • Used for connecting words or splitting a word which is broken at the end of a line.
    • E.g. “panic-stricken”.
    • Hyphen key (next to zero on your keyboard)
  • En dash
    • Used for demonstrating a relationship between two things, either conceptually or as a range.
    • E.g. “2–3” or “A time–money perspective”.
    • Windows: Alt + 0150
    • Linux: Compose, -, -
    • Mac: Option + -
    • HTML:  –
  • Em dash
    • Used for a break of thought.
    • E.g. “Could it be true—had I misused punctuation for so long?”
    • Windows: Alt + 0151
    • Linux: Compose, , ,
    • Mac: Option + Shift + -
    • HTML: —
  • Double Em dash
    • Used to indicate missing letters in a word.
    • E.g. “What the f——k”.
    • Windows: Alt + 0151, Alt + 0151
    • Linux: Compose, , , , Compose, , ,
    • Mac: Option + Shift + -Option + Shift + -
    • HTML ——

“Compose” Key

In Ubuntu, the Compose key is configured from System Settings > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Typing. Personally, I use Alt Gr but there are other options available.

Think of Compose as a mode rather than a modifier; you press and release Compose to enter “Compose Mode”, then once you have entered a sequence it will perform your request (e.g. type an em dash) and go back to regular typing.

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