How and When To Type En and Em Dashes On a Mac

Did you know that that there are three different types of dashes: the hyphen, en dash and em dash? Most people use the hyphen for everything, but the en and em dashes should be used in many cases instead of a hyphen. Learn how to type them and when to use them.

Comments: 29 Responses to “How and When To Type En and Em Dashes On a Mac”

    Julie Armstrong
    2 years ago

    grammar and Mac OS, thanks Gary – never knew this!

    2 years ago

    Very interesting. I never knew this. don’t think I learned it in school.


    2 years ago

    Thanks Gary. Sometimes when I’m writing, a hyphen appears for a dash – and sometimes a dash appears.
    Never knew how to access them individually. Brill!

    2 years ago

    Light dawns! Thank you, Gary! I never knew the difference between the en dash and the em dash, let alone how to type them on the Mac.

    Cameron C Cook.
    2 years ago

    Hi Gary, Interesting, I was unaware of the en dash or em dash. But I found something interesting on my iMac. If it type the hyphen twice, or three times, I get an em dash. This using the Text Edit app. Holding the option key and then hitting the hyphen key is the only way I’ve found to get the en dash character.

    2 years ago

    Gary is brilliant!

    Don Palmer
    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your journalistic skills with us.

    2 years ago

    In MS Word for Mac, you can convert hyphens to dashes automatically as you type.
    Go to: Tools>AutoCorrect Options>AutoFormat As You Type> and check the box beside “Hypens (–) with dash (—)”
    This will convert double hyphens to em-dashes.
    It will also convert “space-hyphen-space” into “space-en dash-space” as you type. In some style guides, this is preferred to using an em-dash without spaces.

    2 years ago

    Cameron & Jeff: Yes, different apps will allow you to type en and em dashes in other ways. Pages also has that, in Edit, Substitutions, Smart Dashes.

    Betti Franceschi
    2 years ago

    I learned this in high-school typing class in 1951. Thanks for keeping clarity alive!

    2 years ago

    Well I’ll be, thanks Gary.

    Lazaro Jordan
    2 years ago

    Hi Gary, never knew this before and your explanation is very effective and simple to understand. I appreciate you gave us this lesson.

    Barry Murray
    2 years ago

    Having a magazine publisher before Pagemaker–Quark–InDesign came along I feel limited when trying to use good typographic standards on the WWW.

    Has ASCII built-in a work around for browser delivery of en and em dashes to display in something other than gibberish symbols?

    And having set moveable type by hand the standard back then was SPACE –––EM TEXT with a close of TEXT–––EM SPACE.

    2 years ago

    Barry: Modern browsers and wen site software do a much better job with special characters today. But you can use – and — when writing HTML too.

    2 years ago

    Thanks Gary, that’s very helpful.

    2 years ago

    Gary, what is this character called & used for? ~ Thanks!

    2 years ago

    Kathleen: That is the ampersand. In grammar, it is a shortcut for the word “and” usually used in titles. In coding, like HTML, it is used for special things.

    Bernard Hedley
    2 years ago

    Gary, thanks for clearly explaining hyphens and dashes. However, the terms actually originate with hot-metal type setting before total acceptance of proportional spacing. The basic measure was the em which was a 12 point measure and the en was exactly half being 6 points. These, of course, varied as to the font size being 12, 10, 8, 6 points etc. The was also a third measure being the “nonple” or nonpareil which was 3 points. To add to the confusion there was also the 10 point Cicero scale.

    Dana Stevens
    2 years ago

    Thanks Gary, very interesting. Made me think that a video on using the keyboard viewer could be interesting to people. I’ve found it very handy when trying to type characters that I very rarely use that are not shown on the standard keyboard.

    Bob Evans
    2 years ago

    Thanks Gary. I know about hyphens, en and em dashes, but until now I didn’t know how to produce them on a Mac keyboard. And I’d still like to know how a create ascii characters on a Mac? Can you tell me that? Thanks Bob

    2 years ago

    Thanks, good to know this.

    2 years ago

    Bob: What do you mean? All characters are ASCII characters.

    Joe Quinn
    2 years ago

    Another nugget from Gary.
    Good to know.
    Many thanks.

    2 years ago

    Gary: you responded to Kathleen regarding ampersand. I believe she was referring to the tilde ” ~ ” not “&” in her question. thanks for the dash tip!

    2 years ago

    Dan: ~ (tilde) is a weird one. I can’t think of any legitimate use in English grammar today, and Wikipedia doesn’t seem to mention any. In the text world, we do use it for some things, like old-fashioned personal website addresses like

    Russell Johnston
    2 years ago

    Watching the video, I noticed you change Smith-jones to Smith-Jones with a single keystroke, rather than moving the cursor in front of the “j” hitting the delete key and typing J. What was the keystroke?

    2 years ago

    Russell: I just selected the j (using the cursor to drag-select it) and pressed J to replace it.

    Jackie MacDonald
    2 years ago

    Re the tilde, it is used in Spanish over the letter n to change the sound to ñ, pronouced ‘nyay’.

    1 year ago

    Use ~300 for approximately 300.

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