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.

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