The dash is a powerful punctuation mark. Overuse dilutes its strength. Let a colon, semicolon, comma,
period, or a new sentence do its usual work and save the dash for its specialty: an abrupt change in the continuity of a sentence.

Em dash
Use an em dash (shift-option-hyphen) to add emphasis or explanation.
This versatile plan lets you try out your ideas—all of them—at the kitchen table.
On the next page you’ll find a portfolio of external surface materials—what they are, what they look
like, and what jobs they do best.

Use an em dash (shift-option-hyphen) to enumerate or define an element added to a sentence.
Each type—brushes, rollers, and pads—has a specific use.
Craft this elegant accessory—a silvery picture frame—to commemorate a couple’s 25th wedding anniversary.

Use an em dash (shift-option-hyphen) to set off a parenthetical expression when a comma might be misread.
Several alternatives—resilient tiles and sheet goods, wood, and hard-surface flooring—offer you an opportunity to experiment.

Use an em dash (shift-option-hyphen) to set off a sudden break in thought or sentence construction.
Will he—can he—obtain the necessary signatures?
The tree, the bush, the fern—all are attractive to the neighbor’s dog.

En dash
Use an en dash (option-hyphen) to represent “to” between figures, including fractions, except in recipe copy, quilting materials lists, and where hanging hyphens are used.
31⁄2–4 inches
the years 1970–73
pages 5–15
23–28 percent increase

3 to 31⁄2 cups
Bake 18 to 20 minutes
10 to 12—9×22″ pieces (fat eighths)
2- to 3-inch piece

The word to, not an en dash, must be used if the numbers are preceded by the word from.
Wrong: Construction of the transcontinental railroad from 1869–1885 …
Right: Construction of the transcontinental railroad from 1869 to 1885 …
OR: Construction of the transcontinental railroad, 1869–1885, …
Wrong: Chief among these were the two governors, George Clinton (from 1777–95) and DeWitt
Clinton (from 1817–22 and 1824–28).
Right: Chief among these were the two governors, George Clinton (1777–95) and DeWitt Clinton (1817–22 and 1824–28).

See also Hyphens.


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