The M-Dash and N-Dash
Dash and Hyphen

The M-Dash and N-Dash

Before the M-dash and the N-dash, there were only the dash and the hyphen.

The Hyphen (the N-Dash)

The hyphen.  The hyphen joins two words to make another larger word.  The larger word is called a "compound" word because it is made up of more than one part.  The hyphen is a key on or near the top right of your keyboard.

The Dash (the M-Dash)

The dash.  The dash was a mark of punctuation (two hyphens together) that joins two parts of a sentence - not joining two words.  The dash acts like an "interruption." 

It used to be that you would create a dash with two hyphens together with no spaces between.


The M-Dash and N-Dash

Within the past decade or so, the dash became known as the M-Dash (because it is longer) and the hyphen became known as the N-Dash (because it is shorter.)

  • The dash joins two parts of a sentence.
  • The hyphen joins two words to make a new longer word - a compound word.

The M-Dash

The M-Dash examples

  • I will be right there - oh! It is raining out! - I may be delayed a few minutes.
  • This lesson is a short - Oh, John!  Can you please shtu the door? - a short lesson.


The N-Dash

The N-Dash examples

  • We need to stay current with up-to-the-minutes news.

When a compound adjective appears before the noun, it requires the hyphen (also known as the N-Dash).  Take the example above:

  • We need to stay current with up-to-the-minute news.

If that same phrase appears AFTER the noun, it does not require the hyphen (also called the N-Dash).  See below:

  • We need to stay current with news that is up to the minute.

Other examples - N-Dash

Other examples:

  • A three-day vacation
  • A two-year-old child
  • A high-wire circus act

On the keyboard - the M-Dash and N-Dash

On the keyboard

On the keyboard, the key that shows the hyphen (plus the underscore) is the following:

As you may know, if you hold down the Shift Key, the symbol on top of the key will print.  In this case, it is the underscore.

That underscore appears at the bottom of the printed line and can be used to create a blank line - particularly useful, if you are preparing a fill-in form.

Creating the hyphen in your text (the N-Dash)

The hyphen is created by using that highlighted key without the Shift Key - simply on its own.

If you want to create a simply hyphen, then do not leave spaces before or after the hyphen and you will have the popular N-Dash.

Creating the dash in your text (the M-Dash)

With the computer, you can create a dash by typing the following keystrokes:

  • space  hyphen  space

When the computer sees that combination above, it will "autocorrect" your keystrokes into the popular M-Dash.


If you are handwriting the two symbols, make the dash (the M-Dash) a little longer than the hyphen (The N-Dash). 

Make it clear that you are joining two parts of the sentence with the M-Dash and joining more than one word to make another longer word with the N-Dash.

I hope this clarifies your idea of the M-Dash and the N-Dash.


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