The em dash (—) is a very versatile punctuation mark and is generally used to introduce additional information. Here are the 3 most common em dash usage scenarios:
• in place of commas to increase readability
All three dishes—appetizer, soup, and lasagna —were delicious!
• in place of parentheses to make the text less formal
The game—which was amazing—reminded me of the old days.
• in place of colons to emphasize the conclusion
Red, yellow, and black—these are the colors of the flag.
Often American English writers prefer using em dash without spaces on either side. However, in some newspapers, the em dash is separated by one space on each side. In British English, the em dash may be used with spaces on either side or even replaced by an en dash.
Em dash shortcuts:
Mac: Shift Option -
Windows: Alt 0151
The en dash (–) is slightly narrower than the em dash and is mainly used for number ranges. For example, "The 2018–2019 season was the best for our team" or "Detroit Red Wings beat the Boston Bruins 4–1 last night." The symbol is used without spaces on both ends.
En dash shortcuts:
Mac: Option -
Windows: Alt 0150
The hyphen is a punctuation mark. It is used to join words or parts of words, for example, "check-in" or "six-year-old." No spaces are used around the hyphen as it is part of the word.
Often, the en dash is confused with the hyphen, although the difference between them is easy to remember: the en dash (–) is a longer character used between words, and the hyphen (-) is a short character used between letters.
The minus sign is a mathematical symbol. It is used in formulas and has white spaces at both ends: 20 - 5 = 15. If only one digit is being used, a space isn't needed: -5.
Mac: Unavailable on the keyboard
Windows: Alt 8722
💡You can also use the Birman typography keyboard layout to enter characters that are usually unavailable on a keyboard. It's a handy tool and is free to download for both Windows and Mac computers.
Usage rules for these symbols differ between languages and regions (American vs British English). Make sure you are using the appropriate options for your audience.