Dashes show a relationship. En dashes for spans or ranges are less accessible for users than a phrase. Use spaced en dashes to set off non-essential information in sentences.
Use the correct symbols for en dash and minus sign
En dashes are half the width of the font height. Use them as a type of punctuation.
Don’t use an en dash instead of a minus sign. Screen readers will read dashes as dashes, not as the minus sign.
In Unicode, the en dash is U+2013.
To make sure screen readers read the minus sign, use the mathematical symbol for minus. In Unicode, this is U+2212.
Don’t confuse the dash or the minus symbol for a hyphen.
Use phrases instead of en dashes for most spans and ranges of numbers
En dashes show a span or range when used with numerals, such as a range of values or a financial year.
Avoid this use in most text.
Dashes can affect readability unless a user changes default settings (punctuation verbosity settings). By default, screen readers won’t generally read out dashes. This can affect people’s ability to quickly understand ranges and spans.
That is why, in general text, it’s better to use phrases for most spans and ranges of numbers. You can use en dashes in technical content, particularly if it’s got a lot of specific spans and ranges of numbers.
Spans and ranges in general text
Avoid using en dashes for spans in body text and headings. Instead, use the phrases:
- ‘from’ paired with ‘to’ – for example, ‘from 57 to 65 years’
- ‘between’ paired with ‘and’ – for example, ‘between Monday and Friday’.
Never mix ‘from’ or ‘between’ with an en dash.
- She worked from 10 to 28 January.
- Annual rainfall between 2017 and 2019 was lower than the long-term average.
- She worked from 10–28 January.
- Annual rainfall between 2017–2019 was lower than the long-term average.
The exceptions to this general rule are date ranges for:
- financial years
- terms of office
- lifespan (birth and death).
Date ranges in titles and headings should follow the general rule, except when:
- it would push the character count over 70 characters (including spaces)
- the dash is part of an existing heading or title that you are citing as a reference.
For financial years, use 4 digits for the first number and only 2 digits for the second. Join them with an unspaced en dash. This will not create any issue for users who rely on screen readers.
The 2019–20 budget [The financial year starting in July 2019 and finishing in June 2020]
For financial years that cross centuries, use 4 digits on either side of the en dash.
The 1999–2000 budget [The financial year starting in July 1999 and finishing in June 2000]
Terms of office
A person’s term of office usually appears in parentheses after the person’s name. Always use 4 digits for both dates, joined by an unspaced en dash.
Australia’s prime minister at the start of the Depression was James Scullin (1929–1932).
Australia’s prime minister at the start of the Depression was James Scullin (1929–32).
Dates of a person’s birth and death
Dates of birth and death usually appear in parentheses after the person’s name. Always use 4 digits for both dates, joined by an unspaced en dash.
Caroline Chisholm (1808–1877)
Caroline Chisholm (1808–77)
Date ranges in titles and headings
Titles for strategies and reports often include date ranges. You might also need to use them in headings.
It’s better to use phrases, unless that would push the character count above 70 characters for the full title. You can use en dashes for date ranges in those cases.
Use 4 digits for the first number and 2 digits for the second number if both numbers are in the same century. If you cross the century, use the full number on both sides.
- The diversity strategy 2020–25
- The Lake Eyre basin plan 1999–2004
Reproduce titles as they appear, including dashes, if you are citing them as a reference.
Spans and ranges in technical content
In technical content where there are many numbers, you can use en dashes for number, date and page ranges. Don’t combine en dashes with ‘from’ or ‘to’ in the ranges.
Don’t use spaces either side of these en dashes if they include a numeral on each side.
- There were 25–30 head of cattle in quarantine in June and 50–60 in July. [Number range]
- Air quality declined during the 2003–2006 reporting period. [Date range]
- This same result was reported in Smith and Jones (2020:5–15). [Page range]
Join nouns with en dashes to show equal relationships
Use en dashes between 2 nouns that both retain their original meaning. These are called ‘coordinate nouns’.
When describing something, coordinate nouns can function as adjectives.
- The Murray–Darling Basin [The Murray River and the Darling River combine to form the basin river system.]
- A Sydney–Melbourne flight [Sydney and Melbourne combine to form a single travel route.]
If you used a hyphen instead, you create a compound noun. These cannot stand in for coordinate nouns.
- student-teacher [A compound noun, meaning a teacher who is also a student, uses a hyphen.]
- student–teacher ratio [A coordinate noun, describing the ratio of students to teachers, uses an en dash.]
If one part of a coordinate noun is made up of more than one word, use a space either side of the en dash. Otherwise, do not include spaces around en dashes for coordinate nouns.
Australia – New Zealand relations [The relationship is between Australia and New Zealand, not ‘Australia’ and ‘New’.]
Rewrite to avoid joining prefixes with an en dash
A hyphen normally attaches a prefix to an adjectival phrase. An en dash is correct in some cases, not a hyphen.
If the phrase is not hyphenated, such as in a proper adjectival phrase, you can use an en dash between the prefix and the first word.
The capitalisation of the proper adjectival phrase and the en dash show that the prefix applies to all the words.
pre–Cold War policies
In these cases, if you can, reword the phrase so that it doesn’t include the prefix.
policies from before the Cold War
Space en dashes in sentences to set off non-essential information
Spaced en dashes create a pause in a sentence to add extra meaning, similar to commas and brackets.
Use them rarely to use them effectively – for example, to draw attention to a new and important detail for your main idea. As a rule, don’t make your sentences complex or long.
En dashes inside a sentence
Spaced en dashes draw attention because they aren’t as common as other punctuation marks. They help some people scan content by showing that information is non-essential or parenthetical.
Spaced en dashes can separate a clarification, an interruption, a correction, a short list or a summary from the rest of the text.
Always space punctuating en dashes with a single space on either side of the dash. Spaces allow automatic line breaks in front of or after the dash.
Often, you need a pair of en dashes.
Three rivers – the Murray, Darling and Murrumbidgee – were discussed in the report.
If the parenthetical information is at the beginning or end of the sentence, you can use one dash.
There was no time to plan – a shortcoming that would later cost millions.
Make sure the rest of the sentence makes sense.
If you remove the content between the en dashes, the rest of the sentence must be a complete sentence.
- The allies – the USA, Australia and New Zealand – signed the pact in 1951.
- The allies signed the pact in 1951.
In a sentence with one en dash, one side of the dash must be a complete sentence.
Solar, wind, hydro and tidal power – all are viable options for renewable energy. [‘All are viable options for renewable energy’ is a complete sentence.]
Solar, wind, hydro and tidal power – are viable options for renewable energy. [The en dash is not correct here. Neither side of the en dash is a complete sentence.]
Em dashes are the same width as the font height.
Various style guides treat dashes differently. Some styles use unspaced em dashes instead of spaced en dashes.
Both dashes are grammatically correct and can be used to show:
- additional, amplifying and parenthetical material
- an abrupt change.
Never use both types of dashes for the same purpose.
Spaced en dashes are Australian government style and should be used in digital content.
Follow this style convention unless a different style reference applies. For example, you might submit a journal article and need to follow the publisher's style, which uses unspaced em dashes. Follow one style: apply it throughout.
In Unicode, the em dash is U+2014.
If you are using em dashes in your content, don’t space them. The spaced em dash creates too great a gap in text. This is a typographical concern and interrupts reading flow.
An unspaced em dash won’t automatically break over a line. This will mean you need to force a line break on either side of the dash. It can either end or begin a line of text.
Use 2 em dashes for some quoted speech and deliberate omissions in text
To show a sudden interruption in quotations and reported speech, use 2 em dashes in a row. The 2 em dashes follow a space.
Ellipses cannot be used for this purpose, as they show the writer has deliberately left out quoted speech. Read related guidance on ellipses.
‘Any more questions before ——’ [The double em dashes show an interruption in a quotation.]
Two em dashes also show when a name or other information is omitted in general body text. This can be useful when something needs to be withheld for privacy or other legal reasons, for example.
Use a space if the em dashes replace a whole word, but don’t include a space between the dashes and part of the word.
The deed, signed by ——, was legally binding.
S—— signed the deed in 2017.
The digital edition revises guidance about use of dashes.
It recommends using a spaced en dash (as well as commas, colons and brackets) to show additional, amplifying and parenthetical material. The en dash also signifies an abrupt change. The sixth edition recommended an unspaced em dash for these purposes.
The shift from em dash to en dash reflects contemporary writing practice and the new focus on digital content. The en dash is spaced so screen readers don’t mistake an unspaced en for a hyphen.
The digital edition also recommends using words instead of an en rule to link spans of numbers in some cases. Expert advice has informed this change. The change reflects accessibility considerations and style for numbers in contemporary digital content.
The sixth edition recommends a full span of dates for terms of office, consistent with the treatment of dates of birth and death. Although the sixth edition included examples of spans of years, it did not mention terms of office explicitly.
The sixth edition included information about using en dashes in formatting. This is less relevant in a digital environment.
The digital edition departs from the Content Guide, which recommended a spaced em rule. The Content Guide recommended not using an en dash.
About this page
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This page was updated Monday 23 January 2023.