En Rule (aka Short Dash, En Dash)

En Rule (n.): British. A short dash, the width of an en, used in punctuation.

The en rule, while longer than a hyphen, is half the length of an em rule and so half the size of the font. Many British publishers, instead of an em rule, use an en rule with a space either side – the pros and cons of this were mentioned in the section on em rules.

RangeEm Rule, En Rule, and Hyphen

The most obvious use of an en rule is with ranges. In the introduction I wrote:

… that is what we strive to achieve, 9–5, Monday–Friday …’.

The en rules instruct the reader to include all the elements between the limits given. It could be substituted with the word ‘to’: ‘… nine to five, Monday to Friday …’.

As a matter of style you should not mix the two forms, such as ‘9–5, Monday to Friday’. Nor should they be combined: ‘from 9–5’ or ‘from Monday–Friday’ would be wrong, although ‘from nine to five’ is good. A similar principle applies to the construction ‘between nine and five’; writing ‘between 9–5’ would be bad form.

When dealing with whole integers that should not be divided you should not use an en rule for consecutive numbers. We can’t have one to two, one–two, or 1–2, children or other living things without dissecting them. We can have one or two healthy dogs, but one–two suggests there’s been a very gory fight. [Note: be wary of units that could reasonably be thought of as including sub-units. Something that is 17–18cm long is clearly between 17cm and 18cm, a few millimetres over 17cm for example.]

To Elide or Not to Elide?

Numbers are usually, but not necessarily, elided to the fewest digits possible: 23–8, 256–8, 1841–5.

Some styles do not elide amounts where the first figure is a multiple of ten: 20–28, 500–502.

Never elide numbers in the range 10–19. It’s the 1914–18 war.

Nor elide numbers in a range that includes two or more centuries: 1992–2010.

Never elide dates that are BC (or BCE if you prefer) or otherwise ambiguity abounds. The range 460–20 BC spans 440 years whereas 460–420 BC covers 40 years.

Do not use an en rule for a yearly cycle that is not measured from 1 January to 31 December, such as the UK tax year. Use a solidus (/) instead: ‘I must submit my return for the 2009/2010 tax year.’

Association

The en rule can also be used to convey association or cooperation between words. It could be replaced with either ‘to’ or ‘and’. We can have the Dover–Calais crossing, the Tyson–Holyfield rematch, a father–son relationship, and the Derby County–Real Madrid Champions League final of 2013 (a guy can dream!).

You can also sometimes use an en rule instead of a solidus/slash to convey the sense of alternative—an either/or notion. Two examples are an ‘on–off’ relationship and the ‘heads–tails’ call when tossing a coin.

Use an en rule between names, to indicate where each name ends, when one name is a hyphenated compound. It’s ‘the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha–Windsor name change’ and ‘the Duncan-Smith–Hague meeting’ (both examples concern two names). This also applies to adjectives as well as compounds that mix adjective and name: ‘China’s current capitalist–communist ideology is a harmonious Keynesian–Maoist discord.’ [Note that some styles prefer a hyphen in such cases.]

The Israeli–Palestinian (en rule) conflict is between two ideologies, yet an Israeli-Palestinian [hyphen!] person is Israeli by birth and Palestinian by descent. We could say the Bloggs–Rothschild marriage produced the name Bloggs-Rothschild.

Use a hyphen with combinative forms that cannot stand alone, such as Sino-English or Franco-Prussian, but remember it is ‘Chinese–English’.

Omission

A spaced en rule can be used to indicate omission of letters. For example, I am writing in Eng – – sh. Think of the ‘hangman’ game from schooldays. Note that this use is not advisable when using spaced en rules instead of em rules. An asterisk can be used instead: Eng**sh.

How to Produce En Rules

The default shortcut on many Windows desktops is Ctrl+minus (on the number pad*). On a Mac it’s alt+hyphen.

*On my laptop the default is the same, but I had to [Shift]+Num Lk first to access the number pad.

Microsoft Word

Either use the appropriate shortcut (as above) or, with your cursor where you want the en rule to appear, click ‘Insert’ then select ‘Symbol…’. In the window that appears click the ‘Special Characters’ tab. Find and select the en rule from the list and click the ‘Insert’ button.

Word will automatically change a double hyphen to an en rule if you keep typing. Try typing two consecutive hyphens followed by a space and a word and see for yourself. [Note you must add spaces around the double hyphen or you will get an em rule.]

[As with all these grammar posts, your interesting and insightful comments are invited.]

Further Reading: Hyphen

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