There’s 9 Ways to Skin a Cat, But 3 Dashes Can Do You In!

Hyphens, n dashes, m dashes ­­ – Oh My! The English language and its rules of grammar can drive even the most fastidious and fussy writer a little batty! The thing to remember here is that there’s more leniency in today’s writing than ever before. Having said this, we have prepared a very simple primer for you to comprehend the dashes and their duties when writing.

Hyphens and Compound Words

There are three types of compound words, one of which uses a hyphen:

  • Closed Compound – written as a single word (no hyphen needed) as in: database, football, lifelike, etc.
  • Hyphenated Compound – words grouped together as in: high-level executive, on-site administrator, one-day sales promotion, etc.
  • Open Compound – words that have meaning separately and together as in: school bus, blood pressure, peanut butter, etc.

Hyphens are also used when a word needs to be split apart at the end of the sentence, however, we’ll probably see less and less of this type of hyphen due to word processing and the automatic jump to the second line, keeping the word together, without a break. When hyphenating at the end of a sentence, though, the rule of thumb is to hyphenate according to syllable breaks. One-syllable words are never divided.

En Dash

The en dash correlates to the width of the actual letter “n.” It is used when indicating a span of time such as: from 1890 – 1920. In other words, replacing the word “to.” There is a space before and after it. Additionally, en dashes are used when comparing values, such as: their father – son relationship was strong, and, McGill beat Ryerson 12 – 2.

Em Dash

The em dash is used in parenthetical statements. An example would be: In matters of the heart, truth and love—above all—wins in the end. When using this type of dash, which is often used in place of commas, remember that consistency is important. The em dash is also used to separate a quote and its source. The width of the em dash correlates to the width of the letter em. Note, as above, that there is no space on either side of this type of dash.

Comments are closed.