Using Em Dashes (–) and Em Dashes (—)

There are two different kinds of dashes: (1) en dashes and (2) em dashes. Many people use these two dashes interchangeably. However, they are meant to be used for different purposes: an en dash (–) is most often used to indicate ranges, while an em dash (—) is used to mark breaks within a sentence.

En Dashes with Numbers and Date Ranges

En dashes can be used to mark ranges. They play a similar role to the word “to,” which is also used to indicate ranges.

Example
Please solve problems 1-14 at the end of chapter 3.
Example
The school is accepting applications for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Example
She has a 12pm-12am shift.

It is important to note here that an en dash should not be used in place of “to” in the “from… to…” construction.

Incorrect
She worked on her book from 2003-2013.
Correct
She worked on her book from 2003 to 2013.

Em Dashes to Mark a Break in a Sentence

Em dashes are used to mark breaks in a sentence. This sounds rather vague, but it means that em dashes can be used in place of several different punctuations: commas, parentheses, semicolons, and colons.

Em dashes can replace commas and parentheses when blocking off a parenthetical phrase.

With Commas
The evening sky, colored pink by the setting sun, was beautiful.
With Parentheses
The evening sky (colored pink by the setting sun) was beautiful.
With Em Dashes
The evening sky – colored pink by the setting sun — was beautiful.

An em dash can be used in place of a semicolon. It is less formal than a semicolon and is most often used to indicate emphasis or a change in tone.

With a Semicolon
Mr. Mercer bought the book for fifteen thousand dollars; it was a first edition copy of Nabokov’s “Lolita.”
With an Em Dash
Mr. Mercer bought the book for fifteen thousand dollars — it was a first edition copy of Nabokov’s “Lolita.”

An em dash can also replace a colon. It is more casual than a colon and is also more emphatic.

With a Colon
Ishiguro has finally released his new title: Klara and the Sun.
With an Em Dash
Ishiguro has finally released his new title — Klara and the Sun.

En Dashes in Place of Em Dashes

People often use en and em dashes interchangeably, especially in non-academic contexts. Interestingly, en dashes can sometimes be used in place of em dashes. Do note, however, that this replacement is far more common in British English than in American English. In addition, remember that all punctuation must be applied consistently throughout a given text.

Incorrect
Ishiguro has finally released his new title - Klara and the Sun.
Correct
The evening sky - colored pink by the setting sun - was beautiful.