Decoding the Double Hyphen Symbol in Modern Writing

By Strategically AI. Reviewed by Rebecca Hey.
Updated December 7, 2023
4 minute read
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In the ever-evolving landscape of written communication, the double hyphen symbol (--) has emerged as a unique and intriguing player. Often mistaken for its cousins, the em dash and the en dash, the double hyphen holds its own place in the punctuation family. Let's embark on a journey to unravel the mysteries of this symbol, understanding its uses and significance in contemporary writing.

Understanding the Double Hyphen

The double hyphen, consisting of two consecutive hyphens (--), is a punctuation mark that's often used as a stand-in for the em dash (—) in digital writing. It originated from the limitations of typewriters and early computer keyboards that lacked a dedicated em dash key.

When and How to Use the Double Hyphen

The double hyphen steps in primarily when an em dash is needed but not readily available on the keyboard. It's a versatile mark, used in various contexts:

  • Indicating Interruptions or Breaks in Thought: Similar to an em dash, it can be used to show an abrupt change in thought or an interruption. For example: "I was going to tell him--but then I thought better of it."
  • Adding Emphasis: It can also be used for emphasis, particularly in informal writing. "That was the best performance--ever!"

The Evolution from Typewriters to Digital Writing

Originally, the double hyphen was a workaround on typewriters that lacked an em dash. With the advent of digital writing, it has become less common but is still used, especially in plain text formats where typographic nuances like the em dash are not supported.

Examples in Context

Let's see the double hyphen in action:

  • Dialogue: "But I thought you said--" "No, I never said that."
  • Emphasis: "This is--without a doubt--the best cake I've ever had."

Summary and Key Insights

The double hyphen is a simple yet effective tool in writing, especially in contexts where more sophisticated punctuation marks are not available. It's a testament to the adaptability of language and how communication evolves with technology. Remember, while it's a handy substitute, the em dash is preferable in more formal or typeset documents.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use the double hyphen in formal writing?

It's best to use the em dash in formal writing. The double hyphen is more suited for informal contexts or digital platforms where em dashes are not available.

How do I type an em dash if my keyboard only has a hyphen key?

On most word processors, typing two hyphens together (--), often converts automatically into an em dash. Alternatively, you can use character map tools or keyboard shortcuts specific to your operating system.

Is there a difference in spacing when using a double hyphen?

Like the em dash, the double hyphen is typically used without spaces on either side in most styles. However, some style guides may recommend spacing; it's always best to check the specific guidelines you're following.

Can the double hyphen replace other punctuation marks?

While it's primarily a stand-in for the em dash, it's not a suitable replacement for other punctuation marks like the comma, colon, or semicolon.

Is the double hyphen acceptable in digital communication?

Yes, it's quite common in emails, text messages, and online content, especially in informal communication.


The double hyphen symbol is a fascinating example of how language and punctuation adapt to technological constraints and changes. While it's a relic of the typewriter era, its usage in digital writing today underscores the dynamic nature of written communication. Whether you're crafting a novel, an email, or a social media post, understanding and utilizing the double hyphen can add clarity and emphasis to your writing.

Looking to sharpen your writing skills further? Our innovative content writing agency at Strategically offers expert writing services, SEO content, and unlimited revisions to help you communicate your ideas effectively and engagingly.

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Rebecca Hey
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