In this series of quick articles, I’m not going to talk about their syntactic use: rather how to produce them using your everyday word processing software on a Mac—my choice since I began dabbling in graphics years ago.
Thing is, none of these punctuation marks show up naturally when they should each and every time and that’s tantamount to a software programming crime leaving “we the users” so confused.
So let’s look at the dash here
There are three types of dashes writers will use:
a) The hyphen that connects two words as in “twenty-two”.
b) The En Dash that is used as a time and space indicator as in “2014–2015”.
c) The Em Dash which is used to give emphasis, change gears, or work as parentheses—in pairs—.
Can you see the difference in their lengths?
Here’s the tip:
a) To type a hyphen simply hit the Hyphen Key and you’re done.
b) To type an En Dash on a Mac hold Option + the Hyphen Key.
c) To type an Em Dash on a Mac hold Option + Shift + the Hyphen Key. *
Now a perfectly acceptable alternative to the Em Dash is an En Dash with a space at each end – like this. MS Word usually incorporates this feature automatically as you type. I use both options depending on the writing at hand. But I prefer the true Em Dash—and note, it has no spaces at its ends at all.
Never use two hyphens to represent an Em Dash, that goes back to the days of typewriters. I miss my old clunker.
(* In MS Word you can also set up a keystroke shortcut modifying Tools > AutoCorrect. Check your software help for this procedure.)