Before I get into the details, I want to go over how to visually recognize the difference between a hyphen and a dash.
Two Types of Dashes
There are actually two kinds of dashes that you’ll see in print: em-dashes and en-dashes.
Dating back to early printing days, the em-dash is a line the length of a printed m, as in Monster:
The en-dash is a line the length of the printed n, as in Nadja:
The hyphen is the shorter than both of these, though probably the one you’ll use the most in your writing.
The hyphen is often used for connecting compound words, such as self-esteem or co-op or for connecting a pair of adjectives before a single noun:
*Note that these won’t have hyphens when the nouns came first, as in “the manuscript is book length” and “the postcard was generic looking.”
En-dashes are commonly used to connect sequential numbers and dates:
July 3–August 2
They are also used with compound adjectives, or adjectives that describe a term or phrase longer than one word. For example:
Finally, em-dashes are used in place of commas, colons, semi-colons, and parentheses, especially when extra emphasis is intended, as in the following quotes from The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman:
“Now go—it’s getting lighter—hurry back to your room before anyone sees you.”
“But Lord Faa, this ghost—I think it’s the ghost of one of the kids!”
Using hyphens and en- and em-dashes in your writing is not only correct in many circumstances, but it adds depth and interest to your writing. Now that you know how, be sure to give it a try.
Don’t forget to leave your questions and comments below!