Hyphen vs. Dash – What is Correct?

TL;DR – Hyphens (-) join words or parts of words, while dashes — en dash (–) and em dash (—) — indicate ranges or create pauses/emphasis in sentences.

Especially or Specially

Hyphens and dashes, while visually similar, serve distinct functions in the English language and adhere to specific rules in English grammar. Understanding the distinctions between them aids in clear communication and accurate punctuation.

Hyphen (-)

  • To form compound words like “mother-in-law” and “high-quality.”
  • To create compound adjectives or compound modifiers before nouns (e.g., “ninety-nine bottles”).
  • To avoid ambiguity, separating prefixes or suffixes, or distinguishing between similar terms (e.g., “re-sign” a contract versus “resign” from a job).

Example Sentences:

  • “The blue-green dress was her favorite.”
  • “He chose the twenty-one-day trial.”

Note: In formal writing, hyphens have no spaces on either side.

Dashes, often confused with hyphens, are of two types: the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). Unlike hyphenated compound words, dashes are longer and serve unique purposes.

En Dash (–)
Roughly the width of the letter ‘n’, the en dash is primarily used to show ranges or connections.

  • Indicating range of numbers or dates (e.g., 1990–2000).
  • Connecting related items or compound nouns like “World War II.”

Example Sentences:

  • “The score was 3–2 in favor of the home team.”
  • “The Chicago–New York flight was full.”

Note: There’s no spacing around an en dash when showing ranges.

Em Dash (—)
Roughly the width of the letter ‘m’, the em dash can emphasize, parenthetical explanations, or create pauses.


  • Highlighting or setting off information within a sentence.
  • Representing interruptions or sudden changes in thought.

Example Sentences:

  • “Those shoes—I’ve been looking for them everywhere!”
  • “I need three things from the store—eggs, milk, and bread.”

Note: In American English, em dashes lack spaces on either side, while in British English, they usually have spaces. Different style guides, like the Chicago Manual of Style, may have specific recommendations for dash usage.

In conclusion, distinguishing between hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes is crucial for clear written communication. Select the right punctuation mark based on the context and adhere to the conventions of your chosen English variety (American or British).


  • What is an example of a dash and a hyphen?

Published on: 2023-10-03
Updated on: 2023-10-06

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Isaac Adams-Hands

Isaac Adams-Hands is the SEO Director at SEO North, a company that provides Search Engine Optimization services. As an SEO Professional, Isaac has considerable expertise in On-page SEO, Off-page SEO, and Technical SEO, which gives him a leg up against the competition.