Figuring out how to type an em dash (—) is strangely unintuitive. Typing what's essentially just a long line or extended hyphen should be more accessible than it is, but happily there are at least several methods of doing it.
Mac users have the easiest time of typing em dashes, with a single three-key shortcut. Windows users have something similar when using certain apps, but outside of those you'll need to use one of several different shortcuts.
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Alternatively, you can rely on existing or custom autocorrect options on your device to turn other characters into the elusive em dash.
So if you're fed up of copy-pasting punctuation from a web page or somewhere else, here's how you can type an em dash yourself on Macs or Windows PCs.
How to type an em dash on macOS
As long as you have a compatible or built-in keyboard with your Mac or MacBook, typing an em dash is very easy. Just press Option + Shift + the minus sign key (next to 0 at the top of your keyboard) to produce a —.
If you're using a keyboard designed for Windows rather than a Mac, the exact button combination may differ, but if you find which keys function as what, the combination will still work.
Some of the options we'll explain below will work on macOS too. However with such an easy method that works on a system-wide level, there's probably no good reason to use them.
How to type an em dash on Windows
It can't be denied that Windows users are missing out when it comes to convenient ways to type an em dash. At least there are several options however, which you can mix and match between depending on what you're doing, to get the — you need.
If you have a full-size Windows keyboard with a numeric keypad — or num pad, for short — you can you can use this code to type an em dash pretty much anywhere.
1. Hold the Alt key. Either one will work but it's best to use the one on the left-hand side because you'll need your right hand for the next step.
2. Now type "0151" on the num pad. An em dash — will appear where your cursor is currently located.
3. A clunkier method, but one that works with any keyboard, is to use the Windows 10 emoji keyboard. You can use this to navigate to symbols and then select an em dash.
Press the Windows key and the period/full stop key (.) simultaneously. The Emoji Keyboard should now pop up.
4. Click the right-most tab with the omega (Ω) symbol on it.
5. Scroll down until you find the em dash symbol (—). Click it and it will appear in your document at the cursor.
How to type an em dash in a word processing app
Most word processing apps feature a list of all supported symbols. Although this is definitely a convoluted route to insert a single punctuation mark, it will get you an em dash in supported software and online tools. Here's how to do it in Microsoft Word and Google Docs.
1. To get an em dash in Microsoft Word, navigate to Insert, then Symbol.
2. Select the "More Symbols" option to get the full list of special characters.
3. Search in the Punctuation section for the em dash — click Insert when you're done to insert the em dash into your document.
4. In Google Docs, you can get an em dash by selecting Insert, then Special Characters.
5. From this menu, you can then either search for the term "em dash", or draw a long line in the draw box and find the em dash among the search results.
6. Using a code or the symbols menu is alright if you want to add in a single em dash, but it becomes tedious if you want to keep adding them in.
In this case, you may want to consider using "Find and Replace" to turn a placeholder symbol or phrase into an em dash once you've finished.
For example, suppose you use two hyphens as you write in Microsoft Word 365. Once you're done, press Ctrl + F to open the search box.
Click on the three horizontal dots, then the Replace option.
7. Now add your placeholder and the em dash (—) in their respective boxes.
You can either let Word replace everything straight up, or you can approve the replacements one at a time if you're worried you'll accidentally interfere with another part of your writing.
8. In Google Docs, the process is similar. Use Ctrl + F (Cmd + F on macOS) to open the Find menu. Then click the three vertical dots
On the next menu, input your placeholder in the "Find" box and an em dash in the "Replace with" box. Replace your placeholder as required.
How to type an em dash using a custom app
Unless you want to set up a more complex proofreading or spell-checking app just to use em dashes, your best option is probably Em-n-en by CemraJC, a lightweight app that's easy to set up.
1. Once on the Em-n-en home page, click either "download the program" or "Binary Executable: Download". This will take you to the related page on GitHub, a popular code repository site, where you can actually download the app.
2. Here, click the top link in the list to download the Em-n-en program, then run the file.
3. If Windows blocks installation with a SmartScreen pop-up, warning you that it doesn't recognize the app, click "More info" at the bottom of the warning, then the "Run anyway" button.
4. You'll now be faced with the set-up menu for Em-n-en. Here you can pick whether you want to access em dashes and en dashes with a key combination, by typing a sequence of symbols or (more drastically) by replacing every hyphen you type that isn't next to a letter.
You can also decide whether you want to have the app active from start-up, or if you want to enable it manually. It will certainly save you a lot of trouble the next time you need the '—' symbol.
More Windows and macOS tips
Need more desktop and laptop tips for Windows or macOS? Why not learn how to hide desktop icons in Windows 10 if you want a cleaner desktop, or how to disable the Windows key to prevent accidental taps?