How do you m-dash?

Dashes appearing in text – like this – to set off a parenthical comment, or designate an interruption, or precede a quotation, are m-dashes, which are like a hyphen but twice as wide. However, in many situations on the computer, a proper m-dash isn’t available. Do you:

Use html and the unicode code for it?
Use html and “—”?
Use “–” in either plain text or html?
Give up and just use a hyphen “-” instead?

Using “–” is fine. Never use a plain hyphen instead.

I just do “–” because it converts automatically at work and I can’t be bothered to remember to do it a different way when I’m not at work.

I’ll admit it does look stupid when one of the hyphens is on one line and the other is on the next line, but I think most people can deal with it in the context of an email or a message board posting.

Letsee, test: - – —

Hm, interesting on preview the em dash works but not the en dash, although they are both correct in the composition window.

Anyway, I’m on a Mac so it’s easy.

“Alt”+"-" for an en dash, and “Shift”+“Alt”+"-" for an em dash.

Trivia you don’t really need to know: An “em” is a typeface measurement based on the size of a capital letter “M.”

In pretty much any Windows application, an emdash can be created by holding down ALT and typing 0151 on the keypad. Prior to learning this, I used a double hyphen — but the emdash is so much nicer.

That’s how I do it!

[hijack rant] Don’t you hate it when software that insists all characters be lower 128 ASCII converts your em dash to a single hyphen instead of the far more logical double hyphen?

How does one do an m-dash—as in the long hyphen, such as this one: “—” that one uses to set off a sort-of parenthetical remark—when there is no m-dash, i.e. “—,” when there is no “—” symbol on the keyboard?

I have no idea.

I’m kidding, of course. It is done with Alt+0151, as in —. Windows generally has a character map up in the accessories or system tools; but my home computer running on Windows ME doesn’t seem to have one. I printed a character map up from the internet and I keep a copy handy, in case I need to write things like × £ ¥ é ¢ § ü or even º.

This is the one I use:

I normally use a double hyphen – but thanks for the Alt+0151 tip

And — on a related note — should there be a space either side of the dash? In older books, the dashes tend to be tight up against the copy—like this—but I think that looks ugly.

At my work place, our clients are state boards of education. The em dash — is used as an aside and doesn’t use spaces. Its use is rare, as test questions don’t usually get that informal. The en dash – is used for negative signs and data group spans among other things. Unless it preceeds a number to show that it’s negative, it has to be enclosed in spaces.

Then again, we have one client who wants a microspace between the – and the number 4 so that they won’t touch. Argh.

I know some people use spaces on either side, and some don’t. I don’t know if there’s any standard. I know the various ways of doing it, but sometimes you’re stuck in a fixed width font, or going over something that only takes basic ASCII, or displaying to someone with a really old browser, and can’t guarantee they’ll work.

I’ve taken to using “–” in these situations, but I notice I’ve never really seen anyone else doing that, and wondering if I was missing something.

Thanks all.

Yep—that’s the best em–dash since its independant of font and doesn’t require coding.

And also, the en–dash is ALT 0150.

Now, class, what are the appropriate uses of the hyphen, the en–dash, and the em–dash, respectively?


ranges and sub-hyphenation for pedantic people

paranthical comments, interruptions, and attributing quotes

I use LaTeX for most letters and papers. The main dashes are converted from the ascii source document into properly typeset characters as follows:

hyphen: -
en dash: –
em dash: —
minus sign: -

I really like not having to point and click or remember intricate ALT sequences when I want mathmatical symbols or accented characters. (I’m also an unabashed control freak so LaTeX suits me. That it is absolutely free doesn’t hurt either :D)

[obligatory vi/emacs flame spark: emacs rules (code highlighting for LaTeX!)]


I used to be a typographer, and we always put a “thin space” before and after an em dash. A true em dash has a character width of exactly one em, with no escapement (the small amount of white space separating a character from the next character). Because of this, we could create a rule by adjoining several em dashes. So in normal usage, you should always add space before and after.

And **NEVER **use multiple hyphens in place of a dash. It looks so typewriter-like. We are blessed to have a type-friendly technology. Use it.

(If you’re too lazy to use all those key strokes, get a Mac.)

Ooh, interesting point. Thanks.

At least part of the time I don’t have much choice. I can (1) refrain from using m-dashes (2) use “-” (3) use “–” or (4) cut out the significant proportion of my friends who use text-based fixed-width type email clients. What am I supposed to do?

And what about web pages? What’s the most recent browser that doesn’t support —? And have all copies been deprecated?

I grant that in using any system with some standardisation of display, using the official version is lots better. When I write in a word processor or whatever, I use the proper character.

I’m another who uses — alt0151.

It automatically puts a tiny space in—like this. You couldn’t make a solid line with it.


Sorry purists, I only use a true em dash when I’m creating marketing or advertising materials. Other than that, it’s not worth my time to figure out how to do it in the particular application I’m using. “–” gets my point across.

If Alt+0151 doesn’t yield the desired result, I just use the “–”. It looks a hell of a lot better than emphaisizing a word by subsituting “*” on either side for italics when italics aren’t available, and that seems to be pretty standard.

This is slightly off-topic, but I have a question. I can use ALT-#### on my desktop computer’s keyboard but not on my laptop. Why is this? I’m using an IBM Thinkpad, by the way.