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I get a few raised eyebrows when I suggest to clients that there’s more than one kind of “dash”. Here’s a primer to explain some of the different roles each one plays:
Hyphen (-): Used to create compound terms such as fund-raiser or side-by-side. Also used to break a word between syllables when we run out of space at the com-pletion of a line.
En Dash (–): It’s called an “en” dash because its length is equal to the width of a capital letter N. This would be used for ranges (25–50%, $4–$8 billion, 2010–2012) and fills in for the word “to” as in “Assets–Liabilities.” You’ll also see it in compound terms that use two words to describe something, such as San Francisco–based and pre–Civil War.
Em Dash (—): Did you guess that it’s the width of a capital M? Em dashes are used like parentheses. They’re especially helpful when you want to break up a long sentence that incorporates a list—maybe one that features your products, services, and packages—that includes commas.
The 2-em (indicates missing letters) and 3-em (a missing word) dashes are rarely used in marketing copy. You’re more likely to see them in works of fiction.
Have I completely confused you? No worries. When we’re working together to fine-tune your copy—for ads, Web site content, printed materials, etc.—I’ll make sure to explain to you which dashes you need.