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Punctuation Series: How to Edit En Dashes



In the world of grammar and punctuation, there are three types of dash (hyphen, en dash, and em dash). “So what?” you say. “Ah,” but I say, “presentation is everything, especially when it comes to the publishing world. And your presentation of such a small thing as a dash is crucial to your book’s success.”

Working with the dash can be tricky, boring, and downright distressing at times. As a writer and an editor, I completely understand your frustration with grammar and punctuation altogether.

You’d rather write, right? Right! So let’s continue our focus on a simple, easy-to-understand punctuation series that I hope will be a help and encouragement to you—allowing you more time to write well.

If you feel like you’re back in grammar school, please take heart—and know that this isn’t going to be a boring, stuffy ‘nother grammar lesson.

It may seem like the dash is not important, but they are, especially if you use a lot of numbers and dates and prose. And that’s nearly every piece of writing, so I invite you to stay for this little journey. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but merely to give you a tool to use in your self-editing journey, should you choose to do so.

Why Paying Attention to the Dash Is Important

  • Appearance is everything, appearance is everything, appearance . . . yeah
  • The difference is subtle, like missing the road sign on the highway
  • Using the dash correctly shows you care about your story, your editor, and your readers

In this blog post, let’s look at one of the dashes, the en dash. And my text for today is The Chicago Manual of Style, chapter six.

Using the dash to mean “to.” (Chicago Manual of Style 6.78)

Many times the dash is a stand-in for “to,” just like “to be” is an understood for a sentence like “We elected Jane [to be] president.” Nonfiction and Bible study / devotional writers, take a look here, as this will apply to you because you use a lot of Scripture verses.

“To” simply means “up through” or “including up through.” And to write all that is really truly wordy. So we use the en dash to simplify. The point? The en dash connects numbers together (words, not as much).

Here are a few examples:

  • Scripture reference. In John 3:15–17 we learn about God’s love for us.
  • Chapters. Let’s continue our study of Lessons from To Kill a Mockingbird. See chapters 3–4.
  • With scores and directions. Congress voted 100–1 on the new bill.

*Two exceptions. As always, there are exceptions.

  • If your sentence uses from before the number or date element, then do not use the en dash. You would say, “from July to November.”
  • If your sentence uses between, do not use an en dash. For example, “The baby sleeps between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.”

Use the en dash with unfinished number ranges (Chicago Manual of Style 6.79)

If the number range in your sentence is ongoing, then an en dash is appropriate. This would include things like serial publications or the birth date of a living person. No spaces required.

Here are some examples:

  • Scriptmag (especially 2019–) is an excellent magazine for anyone wanting to dig into writing screenplays.
  • Jude’s grandfather (1927–) served in the Korean Conflict.

Use the en dash with compound adjectives (Chicago Manual of Style 6.80)

Okay, so this is a fun one, and I might add, a very important rule to keep in mind. I’ll make it as simple as possible for you. 😊

When the compound adjective has one element that is an open compound or when both elements are hyphenated, then use an en dash in its place.

It might be more helpful if explained this way as an example:

A regular hyphen joins two words (smoke-filled room), but an en dash joins a collection of hyphenated (a multi-published–multi-genre author); see the en dash between “published and multi”).

(Examples to follow so you are not confused.)

  • I write mostly about WWII and the post–WWII era.
    (The distinction here is a proper compound.)
  • We are headed toward Nashville, the music–influenced city of the US.
    (This distinction here is, The city influenced by music.)
  • The singer had an Elvis Presley–style voice.
    (The distinction here is a proper compound.)

How’s that for a very brief introductory into using the en dash?

Pro Tip for Finding the En Dash

  1. Make sure your cursor is at the place where you want the en dash to be placed.
  2. In Microsoft Word (version 2016), go to the Insert tab.
  3. At the very end of the icon list, you’ll see Symbols.
  4. Click the drop-down menu, and you’ll choose the Symbol option.
  5. Mouse over the symbols, until you find the En dash.
  6. Click, and insert into the place where your cursor is located.

Using the well-placed en dash is important because your overall presentation makes a world of difference to your editor, agent, publisher, and readers. That may seem counterintuitive because the writing is equally important, but it’s the presentation that tends to enhance your credibility as a writer. (Especially if you self-publish and are doing your own first-draft editing.)

Next month, we’ll look at some more ways to edit the dash in your manuscript, but for now. . . just remember, There may be three types of dash, and one of them is not Dasher.

appearance cred: first appears as part of a series on, June 22, 2019;
photo cred: canva

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

Do you use en dashes? If you haven’t before now, what do you think about using them?