Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dashes: Which One Goes Where?


Hey everyone, welcome to Grammar-O Wednesday. Dawn and I (Annette) are filling in for Ocieanna as she recovers from a cardiac arrest in early January. She is doing well, but prayers are still appreciated as she rests up.

Today, let’s dive into a punctuation issue, shall we?

Do you know the difference between these little punctuation marks: hyphens, en dashes and em dashes? Oftentimes word processors will change the dashes we throw in to the right length, but not always. It’s best to know for yourself which one is correct. Let’s take a closer look because editors shouldn’t have all the fun of changing these out when we get them wrong. (*big grin*)

Hyphens are shortest: -

En dashes are a little longer: –

Em dashes are longest: —

You use a hyphen in compound adjectives: blue-green water. Last names are often hyphenated: Smith-Jones. These are just dashes—one dash (ooooh, see that, I used an em dash, we’ll get to those in a moment. *grin*). Here’s another example:

Non-Spanish-speaking visitors.

En dashes are two dashes, combined. You’d use them in connecting numbers. Example: 2001–2010 They are used with words, also, but rarely so. They imply distance, as in the New York–London flight. For more examples and explanations, see The Chicago Manual of Style.

Use an em dash to set off clauses, including in dialogue. Here are some examples:

The dog—snow and all—ducked inside.

“I’m here to show you the right way”
Karen shifted her arms and now held up the pink sock—“and the wrong way to sort laundry.”

Or when someone is interrupted:

“I can’t believe you said tha—”
(Hint, to get the quotation marks to face the right direction, I insert a period before the quotation marks, then the quotes, then remove the period.)

Most of the time, when some sort of dash is needed, it’s an em dash.

(Side note: There are times when you can use two and three em dashes. Two em dashes together are used when quoting material where something is missing, not to be confused with a blank line. Three em dashes are used in bibliographies when there is repeated information from an above entry.)

Can you think of examples for each of these: hyphens, en dashes, em dashes?

Happy writing!

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