I’m terrible with this – I use dashes and hyphens all the time – and mostly incorrectly – but with much enthusiasm – and I’ve seen other posts similar to this one, but this particular one caught my eye.
For the uninitiated, here’s a short version: there are three types of dashes and hyphens – well, two dashes and one hyphen. They are an en-dash, an m-dash and a … hyphen. The “en” and the “em” harken back to the old days of typesetting and denote the width of the dash and thus presumably the pause, for the reader.
For writing buffs, this is actually one of those fun things.
Here’s the hyphen:
The hyphen is the minus key in Windows-based keyboards. This is a widely used punctuation mark. Hyphen should not be mistaken for a dash. Dash is different and has different function than a hyphen.
A hyphen is used to separate the words in a compound adjective, verb, or adverb. For instance:
The T-rex has a movement-based vision.
My blog is blogger-powered.
John’s idea was pooh-poohed.
The hyphen can be used generally for all kinds of wordbreaks.
And the ubiquitous en-dash:
En Dash (–)
En Dash gets its name from its length. It is one ‘N’ long (En is a typographical unit that is almost as wide as ‘N’). En Dash is used to express a range of values or a distance:
People of age 55–80 are more prone to hypertension.
Delhi–Sidney flight was late by three hours.
In MS Word, you can put an En Dash either from the menu, clicking Insert->Symbol or by the key-combination, Ctrl + Num -. The ASCII code for En dash is “–”.
In expressing game scores, En Dash is used.
India beat Pakistan 250–190.
Use En Dash in compound adjectives in which the two participant terms themselves are compound.
Hyper-threaded–land-grid-array processor powers my PC.
And finally, the (in my case) much under-used em-dash:
Em Dash (—)
Em Dash gets its name from the width of it, which is roughly one ‘M’ long or two ‘N’ long (Em is a typographical unit twice the length of en—and almost the length of capital ‘M’). The Em Dash can be typed as two En Dashes. Alternatively, in MS Word, you can type two hyphens together to get an Em Dash. The ASCII code for this is “—”.
Em Dash is used to set off parenthetical elements, which are abrupt. This is different from commas separating parenthetical elements. For instance:
The tea—with cardamom and other spices—was delicious and fragrant.
Make sure you don’t use spaces around the Em Dash.
Em Dash also separates the final part of a sentence that is logically not part of the sentence (similar to the colon use in this context).
Several friends were present—Saurabh, Arun, and Smija, among them.
As I said, there are many sources for this information. This particular set up of information comes from a blog called CuteWriting.
More stories about writing.
Photo credit: Scribe in India – WikiCommons
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