I love the dash – it is my favorite punctuation. But I like to write it as seen here – a hyphen with spacing on either side. This is terribly incorrect and not what I pass with clients when editing their work. But I like the looks of it and it is right there on my keyboard, easily accessed.
Hyphens, however, have a more specific uses than to look pretty on my computer screen. Particularly to combine two words, creating compound words. Most compound words do not require a hyphen, and those that do really have no grammar rule to follow. Every expert has the same “non-answer”: consult a dictionary. (This begs the need for an entirely different post.) Examples of hyphenated words are:
- The Tell-Tale Heart
Besides the hyphen, there are “true dashes”. The En Dash, the Em Dash. Both have keyboard shortcuts dependent upon your computer type that I advise you to investigate, learn, and use. However, with my Mac computer/operating system, I find it easiest to use the “insert” or “special characters” function from the drop-down menu.
The En Dash is so named because it is approximately the size of a typed letter n. It is a smidge longer than the hyphen and often confused as being a hyphen. But the En Dash is used to join words or numbers in place the word “to”, to note a span of time. It can also be used to join to compound phrases.
- This year’s winter, an insane September–April.
- Edgar Allan Poe lived from 1809–1849.
- It’s an 8th grade–9th grade poetry competition.
- The Minnesota–Wisconsin border is created by the St. Croix River.
The Em Dash is easy but unattractive and, quite frankly, lazy writing. Named, of course, because it is about the width of the letter m. I think it is ugly, hogging location and not using spaces on either side. But, alas, it is the correct way when making a quick transition or abrupt break in a sentence. Be mindful that this symbol can be easily over-used! When handwriting or typing in “lazy writing” mode, the Em Dash is the go-to punctuation, used in place of parentheses, commas, colons, semi-colons. Examples:
- I advise my clients to format every type of dash and squiggle to one uniform Em Dash—which is what most publishers require.
- While she did not like the dash, she was not suggesting it be removed—it was essential for the sentence structure.
This post is only a smattering of rules and instances where dashes can be used. I have left out:
- The tilde, and similar swung dash styles, aka squiggle. I sign my emails like the following, and many more.
- ~ Michelle
- The horizontal bar, use at the start of a quote:
- ―Be the change you wish to see in the world.
- The figure dash, used in phone numbers: 555‒867‒5309.