Chapter: Micro-Typography

Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes

name of your book, your name University of Kansas, 2023

Add to the beginning or end of the book.
Designed by Your Name. Class project for Typographic Systems at the University of Kansas, 2023. The text was compiled from the following sources: Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst, Getting it Right with Type: the Do's and Don'ts of Typography by Victoria Square, Mac is Not A Typewriter by Robin Williams. This book is not to be sold to the public and to only be used by the designer for their reference and student design portfolio.

All the content below must be in your workbook. However you can organize it in any way you want. Each section can be a chapter or you can organize the content into groups and those become chapters.


01 rules check sheet
02 glossary of typographic rules

03 special characters
04 column width and hyphenation
05 hyphens and dashes  
06 quotes and apostrophes
07 kerning

08 figures and tabular tables
09 justification, letterspacing, word spacing
10 paragraph breaks

11 anatomy of type
12 typographic color
13 font classifications

14 glossary of terms (optional)

05. Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes

︎︎︎what can you call out, create an typographic infographic/ make something visual/

Em Dash
Mac: Hit Option-Shift-Hyphen

PC: Alt 0151 (Hold Alt as you type 0151 on keypad, then release Alt)

En Dash
Mac: Hit Option-Hyphen

PC: Alt 0150 (Hold Alt as you type 0150 on keypad, then release Alt
Hyphens, en and em dashes are three visually similar yet significantly different punctuation marks that commonly appear in text. Their definition and purpose are frequently misunderstood by designers and writers alike, often leading to inaccurate and unprofessional typography.

In typography, an “em” is a unit of measurement that is relative to the size of the font in use. Specifically, one em corresponds to the font size currently set. For instance, if you are working with a typeface at a font size of 16 pixels (px), then one em in that context is equivalent to 16 pixels. The em dash — and em space are each one em wide.

Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes come in a variety of sizes.
hyphen -
en dash –
em dash —

Incorporating special characters into your body text can wield a significant influence on the message you convey to your audience. Designers use typographic symbols to infuse their communication with skill and dynamism, elevating the overall quality of their designs. Among these typographic elements, hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes share a visual similarity, yet their distinct purposes and definitions often elude designers and writers, resulting in typographical inaccuracies and unprofessional presentations.

Choosing the appropriate dash can pose a puzzling dilemma for designers. Within the realm of dashes, there exist three key characters: the em dash, the en dash, and the more commonly recognized hyphen. While em and en dashes serve as typographic units of measurement, hyphens primarily function as punctuation marks. This nuanced distinction is a critical aspect of achieving precise and professional typography.

Em Dash
The em dash is twice as long as the en dash—it’s about the size of a capital letter M in whatever size and typeface you’re using at the moment. The em dash is used to demarcate parenthetical thought in English texts, but the dashes are unspaced (without white spaces on either side). An em is a unit of measure equal to the point size that you are using.

An em dash is a type of punctuation used to offset clauses in a sentence or to indicate an abrupt change in thought. When using an—no space is used on either side.

Our equivalent on the typewriter was the double hyphen, but now we have a real em dash. Using two hyphens (or worse, one) where there should be an em dash makes your look very unprofessional.

-- two dashes are not typographically correct
— is an emdash (longer than a endash)

Em dash examples
︎︎︎correct the use of a hyphen to the em dash
When they discovered what the weather would be like during their trip-raining and thunder-they canceled their trip.

After months of deliberation, the jurors reached a unanimous verdict⁠-guilty.

En Dash
An en dash is half of the em rule (the width of a capital N). The en dash is longer than a hyphen and is used to demarcate a parenthetical thought or to indicate a sudden change of direction as in, for instance: ‘Unfortunately the document to be discussed – which you received via email – is no longer up to date’. Usually these dashes can be replaced by commas, or the phrase can be bracketed. Also the en dash is used to indicate a duration, such as time or months or years. Use it where you might otherwise use the word “to.” An en dash is equal to half the length of an em dash. An En dash symbolizes a link to show ranges in number and dates. 

- is a hyphen
– is an endash (longer than a hyphen)

En dash examples
︎︎︎correct the use of a hyphen to the en dash
Opus Design’s favorite show, the Office, aired from 2005-2013.
The Red Sox won 8-4 against the Dodgers.
6:30-8:45 A.M.
4-6 years of age
Pages 336-500

Hyphens are the most commonly used form of dash punctuation.
The hyphen is used to join words or parts of words to make a new meaning. These can, in turn, create compound words as well. Therefore it can be confusing when trying to decide whether to use a hyphen or an en dash. In addition, best practice may be to check a dictionary if you are unsure.

The hyphen is the smallest out of the three dashes—half of the width of an en dash. In regards to the point size, if it is 12pt type, the hyphen would be 3pts wide.

Hyphen examples