Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

The En Rule

A previous post on this blog covered when to use a hyphen (-) and when to use a en dash (–).

Under ‘En Dash’, point 2 stated that an en dash is used to show relationships and connections between two words.

Let’s look at this rule in more detail. Roughly, it can be thought of as meaning to or and.

e.g. father–son relationship (father and son relationship), BristolBath cycle path (Bristol to Bath cycle path)

First and foremost, it is used to display a partnership or pairing where both parts are equal.

It is used between names of joint authors to show that it is not one hyphenated surname.

e.g. Mann–Whitney U test (one developer of the test was Mann, the other Whitney)

Lennon–McCartney songwriting partnership (the Beatles songwriters John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

It is used between ideologies, nationalities or countries to denote a relationship or discourse between them.

e.g. Marxism–Leninism (an ideology based on both Marxism and Leninism)

Greek–American negotiations (but Greek-American wife)

Israel–Palestine conflict

Elements that cannot stand alone, i.e. are not both words in their own right,  take a hyphen (Sino-Soviet, Judaeo-Christian) but French–German

 It is used between places to describe a distance, connection or divide between them.

e.g. London–Birmingham rail link

North–South divide

USA–Mexico border

Essentially, the en dash is used where any two separate entities are forming a relationship with each other, rather than where two nouns form a compound noun with a new meaning (these often use a hyphen or become a single word, e.g. self-obsession, houseboathaircut).

In most if not all cases, situations that require an en dash are those where an oblique (/) could be used instead: work–life balance or work/life balance.

Other useful examples people often forget should use an en dash:

wave–particle duality

distance–time graph

client–server network

space–time continuum

dose–response curve

labour–management balance



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