Using Word Better: Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes in Microsoft Word

Now that you know how to use hyphens and dashes correctly in your writing, you can benefit from quick tips for getting the right punctuation in your Microsoft Word documents.

You probably already know that, without having to make any special changes, Microsoft Word already auto-corrects hyphens to en dashes and em dashes based on what you’re typing.

When you put spaces around a hyphen (or when you type a word, a space, a hyphen, a space, and another word), you get an en dash:

Word En Dash

And when you type two hyphens without spaces around them (or word, hyphen, hyphen, word), you wind up with an em dash:


Word also has a keyboard shortcut assigned each dash that use the minus key on the number pad:

  • En dash: Ctrl + Num –
  • Em dash: Alt + Ctrl + Num –

These shortcuts are practically useless on keyboards that don’t have number pads, like many laptops. (And these shortcuts are also a little unwieldy.) To assign a new, easier, and more natural shortcut to each dash symbol, follow these steps:

  1. Click on Insert, then click on Symbol.
  2. Click on More Symbols, then click on the “Special Characters” tab.
  3. Click on Em Dash to highlight it and then click on Shortcut Key…
  4. Place your cursor in the “Press new shortcut key” field.
  5. Type in your new shortcut, such as Alt + M.
  6. Click on Assign, then click on Close.
  7. Do the same process with the En Dash symbol.

Once you’ve assigned your new shortcuts, you can use either the number pad shortcut or your new shortcut to place dashes wherever you want them, without relying on Word’s auto-correct.