Fun With Dashes

Friday, January 7, 2010

Do you ever have difficulty figuring out which type of dash to use when writing? Rest assured you’re not alone. Dashes come in three basic forms: the hypen, the en dash and the em dash. To ensure clarity when writing, it’s important to know the difference between them and when to use each one.

Hyphens are connectors that help avoid confusion. They are used to break a word into syllables at the end of a line and to join certain compound terms.

Example: twenty-six; self-conscious

Not sure what words take a hyphen? Be sure to check a dictionary.

En dash (the length of an uppercase N)

Use an en dash to indicate range or to replace a hyphen in a compound adjective containing an open compound, or for a hyphenated compound. Use an en dash to indicate linkeages, such as boundaries, treaties, or oppositions.

Example: 2002–2005, $25–$50

San Francisco–based firm
Low–income–high–income ratio

Nursery school–home school policy

The Chinatown–Tremont area.

Em dash  (the length of an uppercase M)

Functions like a comma, parentheses, or a colon to explain or amplify, and is considered less formal than these marks.

Example: He was getting on people’s nerves — especially mine!

2Em dash (the length of 2 uppercase M’s) indicates missing letters in a word.

Let’s go to the ——. It’s a nice day.

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