Monday, September 25, 2017

Let’s Talk about Dashes by Annette M. Irby

Red pencil*

Writers have often asked me as I'm editing their projects: what is the difference between dashes? Let’s take a look at three of them and see if we can clear up any confusion.

Three Types of Dashes

There are three types of dashes fiction writers will use most often:

Hyphen: -
En dash: –
Em dash: —

(Note the length of each, which is how we tell them apart and how we know when to use each of them.)

Uses of Dashes

Let’s begin with the first one. A hyphen is used for compound adjectives or other words, names, as well as single letter or first sound stuttering. Hyphens are also used in phone numbers, social security numbers, and ISBNs (yay!). One would also use hyphens to divide single letters when a word is spelled out. Examples:

Broken-down car

Mrs. Smith-Waters


My last name is spelled: r-i-l-e-y

Y-y-you’re right!

Th-thank you!

An en dash is a little longer than the hyphen and is used for date ranges, as well as Scripture references that include more than one verse. This dash is also used to show sports’ scores. Think of this dash as the word “to” in order to determine whether this dash is needed in your sentence. Examples:


May 3–4, 2018

Jeremiah 29:11–13

The team won 7–4.

An em dash is used often for instances like whole-word stutters, interruptions, and set-apart clauses. Examples:

I–I don’t understand.

“Wait a sec—”

If you don’t mind—and I’m not saying you would—here are the paint choices for this room.

“I can’t tell”—she motioned between us—“which one of you is lying.” (Notice the order here. The em dashes are outside the quotation marks on either side, because they are used to set off the gesture.)

Additional Information

There are also combined en dashes, and combined em dashes, but that’s getting a little involved for our needs. Fiction editors use the Chicago Manual of Style to ensure the proper use of dashes. You can learn more by studying CMS 6.75–94. 

Write on, friends!


Will keeping his promise lead to another broken heart—or help them find love again?

FLI Friday Harbor by Annette M. Irby
Professor Mikaela Rhoades has a plan: she’ll encourage her students’ marine biology research through an exclusive program while helping an old family friend’s whale touring business stay afloat. The challenge is the tour captain is her first love and ex-fiancé. Mikaela longs to help his family in the wake of his father’s death, but she’s keeping secrets. She’ll have to face her past and overcome her concerns about the future to make it through the summer. 
Captain Hunter Cahill has taken over the family touring business after his father’s death. Unfortunately, he’s drowning in grief and debts. He’s hoping the incoming stodgy professor will help resurrect the failing business, but he’s not prepared when that professor turns out to be Mikaela, his former fiancée. To make matters more difficult, he’d promised his father to pursue her if she ever returned to the island single. The more time they spend together, the easier it is to keep that promise, though she still plans to leave at the end of the season. How much will it cost him to spend the summer romancing Mikaela?
Annette M. Irby
Annette M. Irby has been writing since her teen years when she sat pounding out stories on a vintage typewriter just for fun. Since then, she’s joined Christian writing groups and launched blogs so she could share the joy of writing. She likes to say she’s addicted to color as flowers and seascapes inspire her. In her off hours, she enjoys gardening, photography, and music. She lives with her husband and family in the Pacific Northwest.
Learn more on her Seriously Write Page.
Links to connect with Annette:

Twitter: @AnnetteMIrby
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Photo credit: Pixabay
Author photo credit: Sarah Irby of Irby Photography