Hyphens and dashes

Last changed: 11 July 2023

Hyphens and dashes look very similar, and it is easy to mix them up. However, they are used in different contexts. A hyphen (-) is shorter than a dash (–). In Word, you type a dash by pressing Ctrl and the minus key at the same time.

The hyphen

The hyphen is used to join together two words to form a compound noun, adjective or verb: The website is up-to-date.

If two hyphenated words are used in succession, you get a hanging hyphen where the first hyphen can be left ‘hanging’ without its adjoining word: Both first- and second-year students attended the lecture.

Words which begin with a prefix such as pre- or re- are often hyphenated, especially if there is a letter clash. For example, reemerging should be written as re-emerging to avoid one ‘e’ clashing with another.

The hyphen is also used, as the name suggests, for hyphenation (or syllabification), that is the process of breaking words between lines:

The vice-chancellor has stated her intention to sign a frame-
work agreement on …

Two kinds of dashes

Dashes come in two kinds: en dashes (–) and the even longer em dashes (—).

En dashes are mainly used for two things:

  • To indicate a range of values: 5–10 degrees, Monday–Friday.
  • To set part of a sentence apart from surrounding text, like brackets: SLU – a world-class university – offers several exciting degree programmes.

En dashes can also be used to indicate a connection: UK–EU relations.

Like the en dash, the longer em dash is used to set part of a sentence apart from surrounding text, but the em dash is mainly used in US English. Unlike the en dash, there are normally no spaces before and after an em dash:

SLU—a world-class university—offers many exciting degree programmes.

Published April 2020.