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There are 2 places I can type this character from my keyboard, and I don't know if they are the same character. These are the characters: - and -

I would like to know which one of these options this character (if they are the same) is. The choices are:

  1. Hyphen
  2. En Dash
  3. Em Dash

I am learning the differences among these three and I am curious which one is the one that I can type from my keyboard.

Bonus: If the answer can provide how to type the other two from the keyboard, that would be very helpful as well.

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    That is a great question! Maybe you'll find this reference helpful: merriam-webster.com/grammar/em-dash-en-dash-how-to-use It looks like the keyboard symbol is a hyphen; for an Em-dash, type two hyphens and most word processors will auto convert it; an En-dash cannot be typed directly via the keyboard (you'd have to use a shortcut or else look it up in the Formatting Palette). By the way, are you sure your keyboard has two dash characters? Mine only has one, but the same key can also type an underscore if you press Shift, which is one of these _ Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 4:56
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    @QuackE.Duck I have one that is the same as yours, and another one is on the numpad section. I think it is minus sign. I don't know if it can be counted as a hyphen, the same character as the -_, or just a minus (different from all of these options) altogether.
    – holydragon
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:01
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    Oh, my keyboard doesn't have a numpad. I believe you're correct about the minus sign, and I don't know whether it has the same underlying representation as the hyphen--I'll have to look that up! I did find a guide for how to type both kinds of dash here: zapier.com/blog/em-dash-on-keyboard Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:03
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    Yikes, it looks like it's not so simple: jakubmarian.com/… Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 5:05
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    The number pad is probably a minus sign and the keyboard one is probabaly a hyphen. The differences between the two are subtle as explained in my answer.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 7:09

3 Answers 3

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Just to fill in some tech spec…

The symbol in your post is the same in both cases. It's known as hyphen-minus - Unicode U+002D and tends to be the one everyone uses - for everything;) Most keyboards will generate the same character for both the minus key in the qwerty section & also in the numpad/10-key section.

The en dash – is Unicode U+2013 & can be typed on a Mac with an English keyboard layout using Opt/minus.

The em dash — U+2014 can be typed using Opt/Shift/minus

And of course underscore _ on shift/minus

There's also
figure dash ‒
two-em dash ⸺
three-em dash ⸻
horizontal bar ―
an actual hyphen ‐
small hyphen-minus ﹣
fullwidth hyphen-minus -
minus symbol ➖
minus sign −

I've never actually found any use for these & can't produce them from my keyboard, only from the Mac's built-in Character Viewer. Not all fonts will be able to differentiate these.

enter image description here

On Windows, you have to use what's known as 'alt codes'.

Using a keyboard with a numeric keypad, make sure Num Lock is on. Then hold down the Alt key and type the numbers 0151 quickly on the numeric keypad. When you release the Alt key, an em dash will appear. To type an en dash, use Alt+0150 instead.

From How-To-Geek - How to Type an Em Dash on Windows or Mac

I don't know how you're supposed to remember these & they don't seem to form much of a rational pattern. There's a list at https://www.alt-codes.net

On Linux, you can type an en dash by pressing the compose key and then minus (-), minus (-), and dot (.), which means "combine two minuses into one character"; you can type an em dash by pressing the compose key and then minus (-) three times, which means "combine three minuses into one character". (If your keyboard doesn't have a compose key, you can configure one in the OS settings. The right control key and the menu key are popular choices.)

For anyone who can't see these, this is how they render on my Mac. Some of them look awkwardly over-sized & others I'm sure are just the same glyph substituted, rather than the dedicated symbol.

enter image description here

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    You want to use the real minus sign when typesetting any kind of math, as the minus sign has the same horizontal position as a plus sign: Cf. hyphen +- and minus sign +−. (And figure dash might be useful when setting tables of numbers or similar numeric columnar data, so that a dash does not break alignment of the digits.)
    – Mormegil
    Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 15:33
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    @Mormegil - Perhaps if you're using very math-specific fonts [which I don't think I have]. My system draws those both identically on this web page. I can only tell which is which by copy-pasting into my character viewer which actually shows your first is not a true hyphen either, it's the standard hyphen-minus, though the second is a minus sign. I composited these in Photoshop. The hyphen-minus does render very slightly lower than the other two, but otherwise it seems all in the width. i.sstatic.net/dlcyh.jpg Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 15:44
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    Windows has something like that too, it's called Character Map. Check the Advanced view box at the bottom to see the search feature. It also lists the alt-code. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 20:02
  • *nix systems often have a Compose key; Windows users can download WinCompose for similar functionality. I rarely see fonts where hyphen-minus and minus actually look the same; the comparison with the + is usually illuminating, and any tabular situation is particularly glaring. I have Alt+Shift+= mapped to minus for that reason.
    – KRyan
    Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 1:21
  • A number of auto-correct systems will replace a -- with an em-dash, as that’s the one that gets used the most (and a regular - is usually acceptable in a typographical sense when an en-dash or hyphen would be used). Also, not sure about Windows or macOS, but all the major IMEs for Linux (ibus, SCIM, UIM, etc) have some way you can enter arbitrary Unicode codepoints, which makes this much easier to deal with... Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 11:50
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According to Scribbr:

There are two types of dash. The en dash is approximately the length of the letter N, and the em dash the length of the letter M.

The shorter en dash (–) is used to mark ranges and with the meaning “to” in phrases like “Dover–Calais crossing.”

The longer em dash (—) is used to separate extra information or mark a break in a sentence.

The en dash is sometimes also used in the same way as an em dash, especially in UK English; in this case, it takes a space on either side.

Make sure not to confuse dashes with shorter hyphens (-), which are used to combine words (as in well-behaved or long-running). A hyphen should not be used in place of a dash.

The Punctuation Guide agrees that hyphens and en-dashes are different. It also notes, however, that: "The typical computer keyboard lacks a dedicated key for the en dash, though most word processors provide a means for its insertion." This may help explain the emerging trend of treating an en-dash and a hyphen and a minus sign as identical.

In my experience, however, en-dash, hyphens, and minus signs are all routinely denoted by the same symbol in typing on a computer, and are used interchangeably. The word "dash", unspecified, usually refers to an en-dash or a hyphen.

In contrast, the longer em-dash is used for pauses longer than a comma, in the middle of a sentence, in a manner similar to ". . ." or semi-colon.

For example, I have a hyphenated surname: "Oh-Willeke" but lots of people you speak to a airports and banks and spelling my name while on a telephone call or in a courtroom do not know what the word "hyphen" means, and often confuse it with the word apostrophe (as in Oh'Willeke), since the O sound is often followed by an apostrophe in proper names. (My name is a hyphenation of a Korean name and a German name, rather than an Irish name.) So, in order to deal with this lack of vocabulary, I will frequently spell out my surname orally as: O, H, dash, capital W, I, L, L, E, K, E.

To speakers of British English, I would say: O, H, dash, capital W, I, double L, E, K, E.

The first time I ever heard anyone distinguish between a hyphen and an en-dash was when I looked up the references in this post today when I am fifty-two years old, I am a native English speaker, and I have been typing regularly since I was 11 years old.

Wikipedia explores these symbols and also the "horizontal bar" and the "figure dash" and provides keyboard shortcuts and unicode values for them. It states:

The dash is a punctuation mark consisting of a long horizontal line. It is similar in appearance to the hyphen but is longer and sometimes higher from the baseline. The most common versions are the en dash –, generally longer than the hyphen but shorter than the minus sign; the em dash —, longer than either the en dash or the minus sign; and the horizontal bar ―, whose length varies across typefaces but tends to be between those of the en and em dashes.

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    Almost all typing on a computer treats hyphens and dashes as different symbols. It's just that you can get away with typing "this isn't a hyphen - it's a dash" into Word and letting autocorrect do its thing. Commented Aug 24, 2023 at 13:46
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I am learning the differences among these three and I am curious which one is the one that I can type from my keyboard.

As @DoneWithThis mentions in their answer, typically you can't type any of the three.

There's an interesting article on A List Apart that goes into quite a lot of historical, technical, and semantic detail in case you're interested. It's over twenty years old, but still relevant.

E.g. on the use of the different characters:

[T]he hyphen (-) [is] used to join compound words together.

The em dash (—) is used to indicate a sudden break in thought (“I was thinking about writing a—what time did you say the movie started?”), a parenthetical statement that deserves more attention than parentheses indicate, or instead of a colon or semicolon to link clauses. It is also used to indicate an open range, such as from a given date with no end yet (as in “Peter Sheerin [1969—] authored this document.”), or vague dates (as a stand-in for the last two digits of a four-digit year).

Two adjacent em dashes (a 2-em dash) are used to indicate missing letters in a word (“I just don’t f——ing care about 3.0 browsers”).

Three adjacent em dashes (a 3-em dash) are used to substitute for the author’s name when a repeated series of works are presented in a bibliography, as well as to indicate an entire missing word in the text.

The en dash (–) is used to indicate a range of just about anything with numbers, including dates, numbers, game scores, and pages in any sort of document.

It is also used instead of the word “to” or a hyphen to indicate a connection between things, including geographic references (like the Mason–Dixon Line) and routes (such as the New York–Boston commuter train).

Bringing all that together, here's a sentence that uses all three characters:

Stop! Go back and re-read the subhead above—at least 2–3 times—then let it sink in before continuing.

Notice the hyphen joining the compound word "re-read", the em dash introducing the parenthetical statement "at least 2–3 times", and the en dash to indicate the range of numbers "2–3"

Also note that the difference is not only semantic:

In some fancy fonts the difference is more than just the width—hyphens have a distinct serif.

The Trouble With EM ’n EN (and Other Shady Characters)

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    Welcome to ELL. When we post answers here, it’s good to double check the original post to ensure that what we’ve composed does address what was asked. Here you have emphasized the importance of proper punctuation and provided an external link for further reading. A clearer summary of the three marks’ differences would be good too though. Commented Aug 25, 2023 at 12:12
  • Good point. The 2–3 paragraphs I quoted were just meant as a teaser to go and read the full article—it's such a seminal article for me I didn't stop to think about link rot and the fact it was creeping up to the edge of being a link-only answer.
    – johncgl
    Commented Aug 30, 2023 at 8:57

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