Em dashes, en dashes, hyphens and The Last Battle

The Last Battle p. 205
The Last Battle p. 205

A few weeks ago I found a typo in The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis.

This was shocking, to say the least. So, of course, I went looking for some more. I found one in The Last Battle.

Before I point out the typo that I found, I should clarify the distinction between a few different kinds of typographical marks. Specifically, I will be speaking about hyphens, en dashes and em dashes.


Hyphens are used to join two words together or separate syllables of a single word. Hyphens are what you use for compound modifiers, like “well-respected,” or for other compound words, like “being-in-the-world,” if you were talking about phenomenology. An hyphen is the mark that you get on a Mac when you press the button that has a horizontal line on it. It’s beside the button that has the “equals” and “addition” signs on it (if you use a QWERTY keyboard).

En dashes

En dashes are probably less familiar to you than hyphens. An en dash is what you see in a range of numbers or to contrast values. For example, if you wanted to write “see pages one to twenty-one,” but using numerals instead of words, you could write “see pages 1–21.” You’ll note that the en dash is slightly longer than the hyphen. You get the en dash on a Mac when you hold down the option key and press the same key as the hyphen.

Em dashes

An em dash is used to indicate a break in thought or an explanation or to introduce an interpolating thought with a break that is even stronger than parentheses. It is also used to indicate that a speaker was interrupted.

For example, “I ate the cookies—all of them—and felt no remorse.” [Interpolating thought]

Or, “I just can’t believe—” [The speaker was interrupted]

Or, “This is the way to get there—the way to get there without being noticed, of course.” [Explanation]

The em dash is even longer than the en dash. You can type an em dash on a Mac when you press and hold the shift and option keys while pressing the same key as the hyphen or en dash.

What does this have to do with The Last Battle?

Look at the typographical mark between “Marsh” and “wiggle” in the scanned page from The Last Battle. It’s an em dash. It’s way too long to be an hyphen. In fact, there’s an hyphen at the end of the line, in the middle of “disenchanted” for comparison.

Hyphens are used for compound words, like Marsh-wiggle. Em dashes are used for something completely different.

If you own another edition of The Last Battle, can you find this typo in your copy? I’m reading from the 1995 Scholastic reprint.

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The Grey Literature

This is the personal blog of Benjamin Gregory Carlisle PhD. Queer; Academic; Queer academic. "I'm the research fairy, here to make your academic problems disappear!"

2 thoughts on “Em dashes, en dashes, hyphens and The Last Battle”

  1. My HarperTrophy edition from 1994 has a hyphen. Maybe Scholastic assumed that C.S. Lewis didn’t need to go to the proofreader.

  2. Perhaps more of an inconsistency, but funny nonetheless in a post about typos: are you talking about ‘a’ hyphen, or ‘an’ hyphen? Make up your mind!

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