When to Use a Dash: Content Marketing and Grammar

The marketing community has seen an enormous rise in inbound marketing content over the past 10 years. Ever since HubSpot’s Brian Halligan coined the term “inbound marketing” back in 2005, thousands of marketing blogs have popped up that focus on various inbound marketing segments including SEO, link building, email marketing, and social media.

Naturally, these blogs mean a tremendous amount of content, which varies in quality. If you want to be taken seriously and get noticed, you need to make sure your content is professional, polished, and visually appealing. One common grammar misstep we see (and often struggle with ourselves) is how and when to use a dash.

When to use a dash

A good rule of thumb is to never use the dash when commas will suffice. A dash should only be used to indicate an interruption in the sentence.

If commas or parentheses can appropriately be inserted into what you’re trying to say, it’s ok to keep it simple. If not, you can insert a dash.

Types of dashes

There are two types of dashes, the em dash and the en dash. The em dash is roughly the length of the letter “M”(—), and the en dash is roughly the length of the letter “N”(–). So, when should you use each?

When to use an em dash

The em dash is more popular, and more frequently misused. It can be used to indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or a change of thought. Make sure to not include spaces on either side of the dash.

  • All four of them—Sam, Brian, Amahl, and Sly—did well in the cooking competition but Brian won.
  • Can you help—oh, never mind.

To create an em dash on Macs, type “Option,” “Shift,” and “-” simultaneously. On Windows, type “Alt” and then “0151.” On iPhones and iPads, hold the “-” key on your screen keyboard until a pop up appears with choices including the en dash and the em dash.

When to use an en dash

The en dash, which is a little longer than a hyphen, is used for marking space between two dates/months/periods of time and for joining open compounds. We prefer not to use spaces on either side of the en dash, in the spirit of Associated Press style, but we have seen it used and recommended in both ways.

  • March–June
  • 3:30–5 p.m.
  • New Hampshire–Maine border

To create an en dash on Macs, type “Option” and “-” simultaneously. On Windows, type “Alt” and then “0150.” On iPhones and iPads, hold the “-” key on your screen keyboard until a pop up appears with choices including the en dash and the em dash.

What about the hyphen?

It’s easy to be confused about when to use an em or en dash vs a hyphen. Let’s clear it up!

According to DashHyphen.com, a hyphen is used to link two or more words together. There must be no white spaces between the hyphen and the words that it connects. Hyphens can be used to write compound words, such as always-up-to-date), to indicate word–splitting across lines of text, double–barreled names, and more. You can check out the in-depth details on the DashHyphen website.

Grammar is as important as other aspects of your online presence (such as website design). A blog post with weak grammar can turn potential customers away, so make sure you spend the time editing and reviewing your content. You can thank us later.

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