A Dash of Punctuation

 Dashing from Dashes

– – —  Dash

I am fond of using dashes in my writing — dash it all, why not?. However, I have tended to become lazy, and to use a hyphen for all purr-pussies. (As in kit-cat?)  🙂
As a professional editor, I should be more meticulous. There is a distinct difference between appearance and usage of a hyphen, an en dash, and an em dash. Here are the rules for each, and I have resolved to stick to them in future.

The hyphen (-) is found on the top row of the keyboard below the underline. It is used without spaces to join two or more words into one concept such as up-to-date or flower-child.

n

An en dash (–) has the width of ‘n’; it is obtained by using Ctrl and the minus sign on number keys*; and is primarily used to replace the word ‘to’. Examples: Opening hours 8:00 a.m.–5:00p.m., or ‘The final score was 3–1’ or ‘Trading results were up–down’ (arguable) or ‘From A–Z’. *(Update: or press down Alt while keying 0150 on number keys.)

m

The em dash (—) has m width; for this you press Ctrl, Alt and minus sign on number keys*; denotes a pause or a different line of thought. Examples: ‘If you keep interrupting, I can’t finish a —’ or ‘How do you do — reminds me, wonder how he did?’ or ‘He spoke confidently — though there was little for him to be confident about — for some time.’ No spaces are necessary before or after, but some writers—including myself—think this non-spaced result is too crowded. Whichever option is chosen should be used consistently.        *(Update: or press down Alt while keying 0151 on number keys.)

Final Update: Just to show clearly the actual differences between the em dash, the n dash, and the hyphen, I have superimposed them under letters of the same font. Note the slightly lower level of the hyphen.

dashes

© August 2016 Leslie Hyla Winton Noble (WordPress)
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31 thoughts on “A Dash of Punctuation

    1. colonialist Post author

      Colonialist is my alter ego for general rambling. This is my blog confined to writing/editing, and rather neglected of late!
      It is a bit of a mission to use the dashes in blog posts and comments — where the shortcuts will give a reduced view size! Drafting in Word, and then copy/pasting (for posts, using the Paste from Text option), is the only way I have found to work so far.

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    1. colonialist Post author

      Interesting — hey, it works! Better than the copy/paste system I have been using. Thanx stax!
      Just out of interest, I tried alt 0150 Bingo! That gives the en dash!

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  1. PiedType

    Luckily for us, a computer, depending on its settings, will usually combine 2 hypens into a respectable-looking dash (if they don’t, I can’t rest until I’ve created a proper dash). (And I too put spaces before and after.) Now that I’m retired, I’m generally too lazy to go looking for special characters like en dashes, but years ago I was paid to be really finicky about it, making sure other people had used the proper punctuation (Chicago Manual of Style always at hand).

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    1. colonialist Post author

      Thanks for this idea. Unfortunately my settings must be out, or my computer is just otherwise. The two styles of alt shortcuts (0151 — and 0150 –) should now sort me out!

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      1. PiedType

        I used the alt codes extensively when I was on a Windows desktop computer. But I’ve been on Mac laptops for several years now and special characters are handled differently. Typing alt 0151, for example, produces º¡∞¡ sigh … I’m getting too old for this stuff.

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  2. Joss

    I did not know there was a difference between a hyphen and an en dash. To be honest, I did not know of the existence of the en dash – although it sounds rather like a shorter version of the hundred yard dash – but that may just me be confusing dashes with the dash!

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  3. disperser

    Interesting. I knew the rules (although “up-down” to me seems more an example for a hyphen, as in “up-down”), but was not aware of the shortcuts.

    However, one needs to be careful as those shortcut work on a proper editor but not when in a browser (at least not when I’m editing in a browser).

    As for the rules, there are slight variations. You can read another editor commenting on this post:
    https://dispersertracks.com/2015/02/11/writing-and-editing/

    Mind you, the comments are more interesting than the post. Probably more entertaining, as well.

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    1. colonialist Post author

      Where opposites are contrasted, as in up-down, or north-south, or right-left, one should use the en-dash rather than a hyphen (up–down, north–south, left–right).
      Thank you for directing me to that post and comments — revealing that, in the final analysis, punctuation is often a matter of personal choice in choosing between conflicting rules, and then following or breaking them.

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      1. disperser

        That I agree with . . . I was commenting on the substituting “to” as a way – figure out when – use an – (I’ve never heard “north to south”). I use “north/south”.

        . . . just kidding . . .

        One other thing; not sure how it works in other computers, but on mine I hold down the Alt key as I use the numeric pad to type the numbers. “Quick succession” does not work for me. Also, it has to be the numers keypad, and not the numbers above the keyboard letters.

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      2. colonialist Post author

        I think the contrast of opposites is an exception to to!
        Yes, I think all computers are the same on both counts – perhaps I should have been more specific.

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  4. Debra

    I never use hyphens in my professional life, but I admit that I completely overuse them in my blogging. Sometimes a nicely placed hyphen saves me the time of reconstructing a weak sentence and then I hope that no one notices. 🙂 Excellent rules of the game, however, and I will do my best to improve my poor habits!

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    1. colonialist Post author

      I believe that in any form of writing, hyphens are useful to remove any doubt whether e.g. a red hot poker is a red-hot-poker flower, or a red-hot poker (a poker which glows with heat) or a red hot-poker (a hot-poker painted red).

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  5. Stephanie Haahjem

    Oh my goodness. I don’t think I could be bothered! If one is writing-as in pen and paper-surely a dash is a dash!

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  6. Gobetween

    Ah thanks the short hyphen always seems too short for my rambling tones, where the em dash is more suited, just a pity the ctrl, alt – doesn’t work in WP comments section. I will try and use it from now on.

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  7. Lorna's Voice

    Very succinct explanation. Also, I was never certain how to make the spacing happen without going into all sorts of magic chants (many involving words not appropriate for delicate ears). Thanks so much!

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    1. colonialist Post author

      The chants may not work, but at least they relieve feelings of frustration somewhat in these instances! Otherwise, one could ask a champion 200-metre runner — who should be good at long dashes?

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  8. Pingback: A Dash of Controversy | Leslie Hyla Winton Noble

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