Dashes and Hyphens
Hyphens and dashes, specifically en-dashes and em-dashes, have specific functions. They are not interchangeable, and it is helpful to learn to use them correctly.
A hyphen connects two words that are closely related and function together as a single concept. It makes compound words clearer and easier to read and helps remove confusion if the two words could have a different meaning if not linked with a hyphen.
- That’s a high-rise building.
- She wore a low-cut dress.
- Read this real-estate article.
- He made a toll-free call.
- It has thirty-three pages.
- That’s my great-grandfather.
In general, compound words are typically hyphenated before a noun, but not after a noun.
- It’s a part-time job. / The job is part time.
- That is a free-standing pole. / That pole is free standing.
- It was a barbed-wire fence. / The fence was barbed wire.
An en-dash is approximately the length of the letter “N” and generally indicates a range. It usually means “to” or “through” and can show duration. It is used for number ranges, date ranges, and time spans.
- I’ll be gone from 3:00–6:00.
- It’s hottest from July–September.
- This is the June–August issue.
- Please read pages 23–35.
- I’ll be gone Wednesday–Friday.
- I can lift 50–60 pounds.
An em-dash is approximately the length of the letter “M” and can replace other punctuation marks such as colons, parentheses, commas, and semicolons in the right context. It is used to separate or highlight information, and it can be used for further emphasis or to mark a break within a sentence.
- The jury finally reached a verdict—guilty.
- The beautiful weather and gorgeous beaches—that’s why we went to Hawaii.
- Please call my realtor—Jonathan Marks—this week.
- After finding numerous errors—85 to be exact—he finally called his editor.
- I suddenly stopped and stared—this was what I feared.
Here is a chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.
Creating en-dashes and em-dashes
On a standard computer keyboard, an en-dash can be created two ways.
1. Alt+0150 (on the numeric keypad)
2. Ctrl+hyphen (on the numeric keypad)
An em-dash can also be created two ways.
1. Alt+0151 (on the numeric keypad)
2. Ctrl+Alt+hyphen (on the numeric keypad)
I hope you find this helpful. Please visit my website here for additional tips and grammar tools.
Please also visit my Amazon author page here for my books.