The EFC Writer – Em Dashes and En Dashes

Welcome to the EFC Writer—a series of quick, easily digestible writing tips based on some stuff EFC Services editor Melissa Ruiz is seriously annoyed you’re still doing.  


TODAY’S TOPIC: Em Dashes and En Dashes

You know those dash thingies you’re tossing in your sentences all over the place?  Yeah. There’s actually a name for those. The big ones are called Em Dashes and the little ones are called En Dashes.

Use Em Dashes (the big ones) to add more explanation to your sentence or to denote sudden breaks in thought, structure, or dialogue.  Oh, and don’t put spaces on either side of them. Chrissy really hates that.

Like this:

  • My son was crying again—I told him he couldn’t have ice cream for breakfast.


  • “But why can’t I have ice cream for—Oh look, a cat!”


Use En Dashes (the little ones, which are bigger than hyphens but smaller than em dashes) to hook numbers, dates, and words together.

Like this:

  • Reference pages 123 – 134
  • 1947 – 1983



If your word processor doesn’t automatically convert your hyphens to the appropriately sized dash, here’s a quick guide to doing it manually:



Em Dash:
~ a dash that is one em wide

En Dash:
~ a dash that is one-half the length of an em dash

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  1. Quick, easily digestible writing tips? I’m going to love reading this series of blog posts. I’m a huge grammar geek!