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It’s All About the DASHES

It’s All About the DASHES

Kathy Ide 

 BLOGGER: Kathy Ide

Coordinator of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference Critique Team



Two types of dashes are often used in book manuscripts:

em dash: —

en dash: –

The em dash

According to The Chicago Manual of Style and The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, an em dash should be used to denote a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure. For example:

Will he—can he—obtain the necessary signatures?

The em dash is used to indicate that one person’s speech has been interrupted by another.

“Well,” he began, “I thought I might—”

“Might what?” Jayna interrupted.

The Chicago manual also states that a defining or enumerating complementary element in a sentence may be set off by dashes.

“Suzette could forgive every insult but the last—the snub by her coauthor.”

“Three novelists—Francine Rivers, Angela Elwell Hunt, and Karen Kingsbury—have most influenced my own writing.”

CMOS and CWMS recommend that no more than a single dash (or pair of dashes) be used in a sentence. Dashes should be used sparingly throughout a manuscript.

The en dash

The en dash is used for connecting inclusive numbers, including dates, time, or reference numbers. Examples:

1981–1982                 pages 31–33                Daniel 13:3–15



Some word processors can convert hyphens to dashes. In MS Word, go to Tools, AutoCorrect, AutoFormat. Put a check in “Symbol characters (–) with symbols (—).” Then:

To make an en dash, type a word, insert a space, then type a hyphen, then type the next letter or word followed by a space. Once the hyphen converts to an en dash, delete the spaces before and after it. To make an em dash, type a word (do not insert a space), then type a double-hyphen, then type the next letter or word followed by a space.

MS Word has keyboard shortcuts for dashes. For an en dash, hold down the Ctrl key and hit the hyphen on your number pad. For an em dash, hold the Ctrl and Alt keys, then hit the hyphen on your number pad.

If your computer can’t convert, a hyphen may be used in place of an en dash, and a double-hyphen can be typed to represent an em dash, with no spaces before, after, or in between.

Note: For article manuscripts (per the Associated Press Stylebook), do not use the en dash. And insert a space before and after an em dash. For example: “Books — but not articles — use en dashes.”


Did you know the distinction between the two dashes? Think maybe those tips will help revolutionize your dash-editing process?

You’ll meet Kathy Ide at the 2016 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference, March 18-22, where she serves as the coordinator of the Critique Team. Click here to learn more about the Critique Team.


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