Business Writing Tip #65—The Dash

In this tip we’re going to look at how to use the dash—or rather, how to use two different dashes.

Did you know that there were two? One is called the m-dash and the other is the n-dash. Strange names you might think. But quite logical. The m-dash takes up the same amount of space as the letter ‘m’ and the n-dash takes up the space of, you guessed it, the letter ‘n’.

How do we choose which one to use?

The m-dash is used to mark a break in a sentence.  Here are some examples of different kinds of breaks where an m-dash is just the thing:

Used in pairs, like parentheses

  • The manager was involved—in fact the prime mover—in the decision to relocate the team.

Used alone to introduce an example of something that came beforeCharles-Bridge-Prague

  • If you’ve been to Prague you must have seen it—nobody misses Charles Bridge.

To introduce an aside by the writer

  • The decision to relocate was made for a range of excellent reasons—and at least we now have more space.

An n-dash really only has one use. It shows sequences.

  • 2012 – 2103
  • A – L and M – Z

Both of these dashes are longer than the hyphen.

4 thoughts on “Business Writing Tip #65—The Dash

    • Good questions.

      The grammar books I’ve read on this suggest that the dash is less formal than parentheses, so I would suggest the deciding factors relate to what you are writing and who it’s for.

    • Mary,
      I find that with MS Word you do the following:
      for an n-dash type a word, space, hyphen, space, then next word. When you add a space after the 2nd word they hyphen should become an n-dash.
      for an m-dash type a word followed immediately by two hyphens with no space, then the next word. Again when you type a space after the 2nd word it should change.
      This is how it works for me anyway!

      Good luck

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