Knowing when and how to use hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes properly can greatly improve the readability and professionalism of your documents. While standard keyboards have a key for hyphens, they lack dedicated keys for en and em dashes.
Fortunately, Google Docs provides easy ways to insert these special punctuation marks into your documents.
What’s the Difference Between Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes?
Before diving into the how-to, let’s clarify the difference between these three types of dashes:
- Hyphen (-) – The shortest dash, used for compound words like “well-known” or to break a word across lines.
- En dash (–) – Slightly longer than a hyphen. Used to indicate number ranges like “pages 100–200” or connections between words like “Boston–New York train”.
- Em dash (—) – The longest dash. Used to offset an amplifying or clarifying phrase in a sentence. For example: “She gave a sweeping speech—the best I’ve ever heard—on the state of education reform.”
Manually Insert Hyphens and Dashes in Google Docs
Insert a Hyphen
As hyphens have dedicated keyboard keys, they are the easiest dashes to insert in Google Docs:
- On most keyboards, simply press the hyphen key located to the right of the zero.
Insert En and Em Dashes
Since en and em dashes lack dedicated keyboard keys, use these steps to insert them:
- Click where you want to insert the dash in your document
- Go to Insert > Special Characters
- In the search box, type “em dash” or “en dash”
- Click the dash to insert it
You can also use keyboard shortcuts:
- En dash:
- Windows –
Alt + 0150
- Mac –
Option + Minus key
- Windows –
- Em dash:
- Windows –
Alt + 0151
- Mac –
Option + Shift + Minus key
- Windows –
Auto-Format Hyphens into Dashes in Google Docs
Manually inserting dashes every time can get tedious. Luckily, Google Docs can automatically format hyphens into en or em dashes for you.
Here’s how to set it up:
- Insert an en or em dash using the steps above
- Highlight the dash
- Right-click and select Copy
- Go to Tools > Preferences
- Click the Substitutions tab
- Under “Replace,” paste the dash you copied
- Next to “With,” paste the same dash again
- Click OK
Now when you type two hyphens (–), Google Docs will replace them with an en dash. And three hyphens (—) will be changed to an em dash.
Use Dashes Correctly
Now that you know how to create hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes in Google Docs, let’s briefly cover when to use each:
- Hyphens are used for compound words like “well-known” or to break a single word across lines
- En dashes indicate number ranges like “pages 100–200” or connections between words like “Boston–New York train”
- Em dashes offset amplifying or clarifying phrases in sentences—like this—to improve readability
Follow these basic rules, and you’ll be properly applying dashes in your documents in no time.
Here are some troubleshooting tips in case you run into issues with dashes in Google Docs:
Dashes disappear when typing
- Check your AutoCorrect preferences to ensure dashes aren’t reverting to hyphens
Dashes display as boxes or question marks
- The font you’re using may not support dashes. Try changing to another standard font like Arial or Times New Roman
Can’t find en or em dashes in Special Characters
- Make sure you’ve searched for both the dash name (“em dash”) as well as the symbol itself (—)
Keyboard shortcuts don’t work
- Keyboard shortcuts can vary based on your operating system and keyboard layout. Refer to the shortcuts listed above.
Auto-formatting isn’t working
- Confirm you’ve properly set up substitutions per the steps outlined above
Tips for Using Dashes Efficiently
Here are some top tips for working with dashes efficiently in Google Docs:
Create a custom keyboard shortcut
Streamline inserting specific dashes by creating a custom keyboard shortcut mapped to that symbol.
Use slash commands
Try typing “/” then “emdash” or “endash” followed by space to quickly insert those symbols.
Add dashes to AutoCorrect/AutoText
Have Google Docs automatically replace abbreviations like “—” with an em dash.
Craft custom templates with your most used dashes already included to start new docs faster.
Check out Google Workspace Marketplace for addons that enhance working with special symbols and characters.
Understanding the proper use of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes is key to improving the readability of your documents. While Google Docs doesn’t have default keyboard shortcuts for inserting en and em dashes, this guide outlined multiple methods to quickly insert them.
Additionally, you can save time by setting up Google Docs to auto-format hyphens into dashes. And the troubleshooting tips provided solutions for common issues working with dashes in Google Docs.
By mastering dashes in Google Docs, you can write and format text faster while adhering to professional publishing standards. So incorporate these best practices into your workflow today.