November Office tip mailbag: Enter the em and en dash

Regardless of version, there are several easy ways to enter an em or en dash into your Word documents.

A lot of my mail these days is from readers who have upgraded and can't find their favorite features anymore. After Alan upgraded to Word 2007, he was unable to enter an em dash by typing two hyphens. The absence of familiar toolbars complicated Alan's situation; he couldn't find the AutoCorrect option that works this bit of magic. Fortunately, the feature's still around.

Before we look at methods for inserting dashes, let's discuss what they are and how you'll use them. Typographically, an em dash is the width of the font. For example, a 12-point font would produce a 12-point em dash. An en dash is half the width of an em dash. You'll (usually) use an en dash to denote a range: The instructions for inserting an em dash in Word 2007 are on pages 26 – 27. An em dash denotes an interruption—a change in direction—in a sentence. (Okay, that's a bit contrived, but it makes my point.) Now, let's look at methods for entering both dashes in Word.


The easiest way to enter either dash is to let Word do it for you—that's where the AutoCorrect feature can help. Enter two hyphen characters between the two words you want to connect and Word will convert the hyphens into an em dash. To insert an en dash, insert a space character before and after the two hyphens. If this doesn't work, the AutoCorrect option is probably disabled. You can check its status as follows:

  1. Click the File tab and choose Options. In Word 2007, click the Office button and click Word Options. In Word 2003, choose AutoCorrect Options from the Tools menu and skip to step 4.
  2. In the left pane, choose Proofing.
  3. In the AutoCorrect Options section, click the AutoCorrect Options button.
  4. Click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.
  5. Check the Hyphens (--) with (—) option to enable it.
  6. Click OK twice.



This is a default level change; the option will remain enabled until you uncheck it.

When you need two hyphens, you can temporarily override AutoCorrect by pressing [Ctrl]+Z after Word converts the two hyphens into a dash. Word will remove the dash, leaving the two hyphens.

If you choose to leave this option disabled, use one of the following methods to enter a dash:

  • Press [Ctrl]+[Alt]+- to enter an em dash. You must use the minus sign (-) on the numeric keypad, not the hyphen character on the alphanumeric keypad. To enter an en dash, press [Ctrl]+- on the numeric keypad.
  • Hold down the [Alt] key and type 0151 on the numeric keypad to enter an em dash. Make sure to press NumLocks first. For an en dash, press 0150.
  • Click the Insert tab, click Symbol in the Symbols group, and then click More Symbols. In Word 2003, choose Symbol from the Insert menu. Then, click the Special Characters tab, highlight the em dash or en dash item, and click Insert.

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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.


If any of you are interested, an "en dash" is a dash that is the width of the letter "N" in a proportionally spaced typeface. Likewise, the em-dash is the width of the letter "M".  Here's another factoid: Arial is a typeface, and 12-pt Arial is a font (the combination of typeface and size).


American punctuation rules are oddly complicated on this topic. I never understood this "em dash with no spaces" thing - apart from apostrophes and hyphens (which are, let's face it, part of a word and not part of the sentence), all punctuation should have at least one leading or trailing space. End of matter. Fortunately if you use English (UK) or one of the UK-derived Englishes (is that a word?) this matter resolves itself automagically and you don't have to know any of the techniques described here. This is how it works:

(1) The en dash is always a hyphen, used as a hyphen - i.e. no spaces ('the instructions are on pages 25-26'); 

(2) an em dash is always preceded and followed by a space, and a dash preceded and followed by a space is always an em dash; so there is no need to use a double-hyphen - just type a single hyphen with single spaces either side and Word fixes it using the built-in autocorrect rules. Bingo.


In the age of office 2013 its not really very useful to spread tips for people who just upgraded from office 2003 to 2007. Anyway - those who miss the Office 2003 style menus, should have a look at the classic menu for Office 2010/2013 at


I too have gotten into the habit of using the alt-key sequences referred to by @kenwarthen since those work in all applications (e.g., webmail), not just Word.  Same for “smart quotes”.  I was an English major as well before I realized I needed to find employment after college.  English majors learn about punctuation but not typography.

Some of it is a matter of personal preference, like whether to separate an em-dash with spaces.


I would bet most people have no idea what the em and en dash are, or their proper usage.  When I got a laptop for my Apple dependent wife a while ago, I was explaining how to use the ALT+0151 or ALT+0150 shortcut to insert and em or en dash.  She had a lost look on her face when she asked me what on earth an em dash was.  My wife was an English major in college about forty years ago.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

Do you have a question about Office 2013? Are you trying to find a feature that is no longer where it used to be? Perhaps Susan and your peers can help.


@chrisbedford I fully support both the use of the word 'Englishes' and the automagic production of em dashes. However I've always found that the en dash doesn't undergo the transformation until the word following it has been recognised as complete because there's some more punctuation or another space. Maybe you type too fast to have noticed ... 

(And let's not consider if there should be a space before that ellipsis or not.)


@ejakob Instructions for 2013 are included so I'm not leaving anyone out. Besides, I think you underestimate the number of people still using older versions. They're still out there and they still need me! Yeah! :) 


@CharlieSpencer Word converts the hyphens into the appropriate dash, but I don't think that's what you're really asking, is it? Can you clarify what you mean? 


@kenwarthen I would venture to guess that your wife with an English degree was never a typesetter (or graphic designer, or keyliner). I learned the difference in 7th grade when I took Print Shop (then called "Graphic Arts"). It still is handy knowledge, and I prefer to hard-key the characters, rather than chance that the software will get it right.

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