Blueings | Thoughts on Branding, Design & Technology

April 30th, 2010

PUNCTUATION: Dashes vs. Hyphens


Post by Cesar Rivera.

In this issue, hyphen tries to outwit users by doubling itself to replace em dash. Hyphen also tries to replace en dash in between dates and times. Meanwhile, en dash places itself between a series of numbers and em dash positions itself in the middle of a sentence to break for a side thought. Confused? You won’t be after this issue of PUNCTUATION.

This is the story of three punctuation marks: em dash (), en dash () and hyphen (-). Em dash enjoys life within a sentence to indicate a pause in thought—unlike its counter parts. It was named so because it is the same length as a lower case “m” within a font. Em dash has many other uses such as:

  1. In the middle of a sentence to indicate the speaker has been interrupted:“Dallas played like” “Spoiled children?” “Exactly.”
  2. As an aposiopesis, the rhetorical device by which a sentence is stopped short not because of interruption but because the speaker is too emotional to continue: “When I saw that foul, I was like,” he huffed, shook his head in frustration and walked away.
  3. In front of a person’s name after a quote, if the quote is a separate element from a paragraph:
    “I can’t believe how Dallas played on Monday.”
    Spurs Fan

Em dash likes to be typed out on Mac by pressing option+shift+hyphen. For PC, press and hold Alt and type 0151. The only thing em dash would change about life is to not be confused with parenthesis ( ), colon (:), ellipsis (…) or double hyphen (––).

En dash also enjoys life but in much different ways. The en dash is most commonly used to indicate a closed range of values, such as those between dates (The pool is open JuneAugust), times (Office hours are from 9 AM6 PM, MF) or numbers (Ages 13). Like em dash, en dash has just as many uses. It can be used to contrast values or illustrate a relationship between two items or for compound adjectives:

  1. The Spurs won the series 43
  2. DallasSan Antonio Rivalry
  3. NonSan Antonio Basketball teams
  4. High-priorityhigh-pressure games

To type an en dash on a Mac, press option+hyphen. For a PC, press and hold Alt and type 0150. En dash has only one worry, being confused with hyphen.

Hyphen enjoys life most. It is often confused for em and en dashes—it is not a dash. Hyphens are mostly used to break single words into parts, join ordinarily separate words into single words or syllabification, and spelling.

  1. pre-existing
  2. well-being
  3. long-established
  4. third- and fourth-quarters
  5. “When I saw that foul, I was like—” he huffed, shook his head in frus-
    t ration and walked away.
  6. bas-ket-ball (syllabification)
  7. F-O-U-L (spelling)

Hyphen would be very happy if both em and en dashes would disappear.

Will ellipsis try to wiggle into em dashes position? Will parenthesis try to get there first? Will hyphen replace en dash for good? Will tilde (~) ever straighten itself out? Find out next time in PUNCTUATION.

Published in Copywriting by Juan Barrera 2 Comments

2 Responses to “PUNCTUATION: Dashes vs. Hyphens”

  1. Great job Cesar! Punctuation is always a good subject.

  2. Cesar Rivera

    Woo Hoo, I’m published.

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