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In another post, we explained that in American English, we use em dashes, not en dashes to set off parentheticals and to show sudden breaks (British English uses a spaced en dash instead). So when is it correct to use an en dash in American English?
The en dash replaces “to” when connecting numbers and words
The en dash is most commonly used to replace the word “to.” For example, you would use it to connect numbers in a range. Many people use dashes for this, but the proper form is to use the en dash.
Right: Read pages 8–22 for homework tonight.
Wrong: Read pages 8-22 for homework tonight.
Right: The years 1994–1998 were great ones for the team.
Wrong: The years 1994-1998 were great ones for the team.
Note: The Chicago Manual of Style advises that if you use the words “from” or “between” with your range, you should spell out the word “to” instead of using the en dash, for consistency. So, “She played on the team from 1994 to 1996″ would be correct.
You can also use the en dash to replace “to” in scores and directions.
Right: The score was 20–1 when we turned off the TV.
Wrong: The score was 20-1 when we turned off the TV.
Right: The Tokyo–Kyoto train comes every hour.
Wrong: The Tokyo–Kyoto train comes every hour.
The en dash can be used with compound adjectives
This is a special use case that doesn’t happen often. If you have a compound adjective where one of the adjectives is an open compound or both of the adjectives are already hyphenated compounds, then you would use an en dash so the compound adjective will be read correctly. If at all possible, rephrase to avoid this usage.
Vocab: an open compound is when you have two words that are separated by only a space, but they must be paired together to modify a word.
Right: The Taylor Swift–style beat filled the room. (Here, “Taylor Swift” is an open compound.)
Wrong: The Taylor Swift-style beat filled the room. (With the hyphen, “beat” only modifies “Swift” instead of the entire phrase.)
Right: They were all private school–educated snobs.
Wrong: They were all private school-educated snobs.
Better: They were all snobs educated at one of those expensive private schools.
Right: She took pride in her semi-elegant–semi-successful party.
Wrong: She took pride in her semi-elegant-semi-successful party.
Better: She took pride in her semi-elegant, semi-successful party.
Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions about how to use an en dash.
Thanks for a helpful post. So, how do we make an en dash on the keyboard, as opposed to an em dash or a dash?
Here are the keyboard shortcuts!
PC: In Microsoft Office, press ctrl followed by the hyphen on the number pad. For other applications, hold down alt and press the numbers 0150 on the number pad.
Mac: Press option followed by the hyphen on the number pad.