Quickly insert an n-dash or m-dash in Microsoft Word

After writing about how the n-dash and m-dash are used, I thought I should add something about how to insert the n-dash and m-dash quickly in Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Word can create the n-dash and m-dash automatically while you type.

N-dash (or ‘en dash’)
Automatically created in Word when you type “something – something” (word-space-hyphen-space-word).

M-dash (or ‘em dash’)
Automatically created in Word when you type “something–something” (word-hyphen-hyphen-word).

But if you miss an n-dash while you type – or if you want to add one later when editing text – it is not easy to get the dash that you want.

An easy way to insert an n-dash or m-dash in Microsoft Word:

Create easy keyboard shortcuts for the characters.

Word has default shortcut key combinations for special characters, but I find them hard to remember and hard to reach with my fingers.  The method below lets you assign new shortcuts that are easy to type (and easy to remember).

How-to:

(These instructions should work fine for old and new versions of Microsoft Word. The only one I haven’t tried is Office 360 – thanks for any comments from Office 360 users!)

  1. Go to Insert –> Symbol –> More Symbols
  2. Find the m-dash in the character map, or just click on the ‘special characters’ tab and they should be at the top.
  3. Choose m-dash then click ‘shortcut key’.
  4. In the field titled ‘press new shortcut key’ enter a convenient key combination – I use ‘alt m’ for the m-dash and ‘alt n’ for the n-dash becasue they are easy to remember and easy to type.
  5. Click ‘assign’ (this is IMPORTANT – if you don’t click ‘assign’, the shortcut won’t be created and you’ll need to start again).
  6. Click ‘close’.

Repeat the steps for the n-dash (and any other special characters you tend to use).

Now it is easy to type the n-dash or m-dash with a quick keyboard command.

Another method for inserting n-dash and m-dash, already built into Word:

If you have a full keyboard with a number pad (not just numbers at the top), you can click ‘Ctrl – minus’ for the n-dash and ‘Alt – Ctrl – minus’ for the m-dash.

More about the n-dash and m-dash:

How to use the hyphen, n-dash and m-dash in your writing 

Differences between the hyphen, dash and minus symbols 

Using the n-dash and m-dash on a blog or website

Comments

    • Mister Punctual says

      Hi Vicki,
      That’s no problem in Word.
      Ctrl – H opens the find-and-replace dialogue.
      You can, for example, find a [space-hyphen-space] in your document, copy all three characters (including the spaces), then paste into the ‘Find what’ field. Next, find an m-dash then copy and paste it into the ‘Replace with’ field.
      You can then replace those hyphens one-by-one, using the ‘Replace’ and ‘Find Next’ buttons.
      Or you can just click ‘Replace all’ and you’re done.
      Warning: If your text has some imperfections, you need to be careful using find & replace. In the example above, if there are places in your text that have [word-hyphen-space-word] (no space before the hyphen) then the find function won’t spot it. It will only search the exact characters you enter in the ‘Find what’ field. Sometimes you need to use Find & Replace a few times, with different variations, to make sure it is all right.
      Extra: In the Find & Replace dialogue, if you click ‘More’ then click ‘Special’, you’ll see a list of special characters including the en-dash and em-dash.

  1. Jeff says

    Thank you. I quickly grew tired of instructional websites that inform you that “Word automatically does this for you!” As if that were all you needed. Well, sometimes this is handy, but it does not work when editing. The assignment of a keyboard shortcut is much easier. So Thanks!

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