A Guide to the Dash & Hyphen In English: Rules and Errors
What is a Dash and What is a Hyphen?
Dashes and hyphens, while similar in appearance, serve different purposes in writing. Understanding their distinct roles is crucial for proper punctuation.
|It was a sunny day—warm and bright.
The names "em dash" and "en dash" come from the width of the dashes in relation to the typeset typography. An "em dash" is approximately the width of a typeset letter "m" in the same font size, which is typically the widest letter. Similarly, an "en dash" is about the width of the letter "m". These typographic measurements ensure consistency across various fonts and sizes.
History of the Dash and Hyphen
The hyphen, with roots dating back to ancient Greece, and the dash, emerging in the 18th century, have played key roles in the evolution of written language. Originally used for connecting words and ideas, their applications have become more nuanced over time.
How You Should Use a Dash and Hyphen
The hyphen and dash, though similar, serve different purposes in writing. Hyphens primarily connect words and divide them at line breaks, while dashes, both em and en, introduce additional or contrasting information.
- Hyphen for Compound Words:
- Example: Mother-in-law, long-term plan.
- Em Dash for Additional Information:
- Example: She was going—no, running—to catch the bus.
- En Dash for Ranges:
- Example: The meeting is scheduled for 10–11 am.
How Not to Use a Dash and Hyphen
Understanding how not to use these punctuation marks is crucial. Hyphens shouldn't be used to connect unrelated words, and dashes should not be overused, as this can disrupt the flow of writing.
Common Mistakes with the Dash and Hyphen
Common mistakes include confusing hyphens with dashes and spacing errors. Em dashes typically do not have spaces on either side, while en dashes do.
|Using a hyphen instead of an em dash
|He was going - to the store (Incorrect) vs He was going — to the store (Correct)
|Incorrect spacing with an en dash
|10 - 11 am (Incorrect) vs 10-11 am (Correct)
|It's not - well - very clear (Incorrect) vs It's not very clear (Correct)
Changing Patterns of Use
As language and media evolve, so do the uses of hyphens and dashes. Digital communication has seen a rise in the use of em dashes, while hyphen use is declining with changes in compound word formations.
The Dash and Hyphen in Other Languages
While the fundamental uses of hyphens and dashes are similar across languages, each language has its unique rules and applications.
|Uses hyphens in compound words and for prefixes; dashes for dialogue and asides.
|Dashes used similarly to English for parenthetical statements; hyphens prevalent in compound words.
|Hyphens less common; used in some compound nouns. Dashes used for interruptions and asides.
|Similar to English in using dashes for additional information or breaks in dialogue.
|Hyphens for compound words and word breaks. Dashes, especially the em dash, are used in dialogues and parenthetical statements.