User:OrenBochman/Hyphens and dashes


Hyphens (-) indicate conjunction. There are three main uses.*

  1. To distinguish between homographs (to re-dress means to dress again, but to redress means to set right).
  2. To link certain prefixes with their main word (non-Western, mid-year). NB There is a clear trend to join both elements, particularly in American English in all varieties of English (subsection, nonlinear). A hyphen is more likely when the adjacent letters are the same or are both vowels (non-negotiable, pre-industrial), or where a word is uncommon.
  3. To link related terms in compound adjectives and adverbs: (face-to-face discussion, hand-fed turkeys).
    • Disambiguation. (little-celebrated paintings isn't a reference to little paintings).
    • Before versus after the noun. Many compound adjectives are hyphenated before the noun (a light-blue handbag), but not after (the handbag was light blue), but where it might be unclear, the hyphen may be used after the noun: the turkeys were hand-fed).
    • -ly adverbs. Normally don't use a hyphen after an -ly adverb (a wholly owned subsidiary).
    • Hanging hyphens. two- and three-digit numbers.
    • Units versus symbols. Hyphenate values and units used as compound adjectives only where the unit is given as a whole word: a 9-millimetre gap, but a 9 mm gap.
    • Multi-hyphenated items. Often you can avoid multi-word hyphenated adjectives by rewording, particularly where converted units are involved (the 12-hectare-limit (29.6-acre-limit) rule might be possible as the rule imposing a limit of 12 hectares (29.6 acres)).
  • Spacing. Normally don't put a space before or after a hyphen, except when it's "hanging" (see above).
  • Double hyphens. Don't use -- as a substitute for em or en dashes.*

En dashes*Edit

En dashes () have three distinct roles.

  1. To indicate disjunction, with several applications.
    • To convey the sense of to or through, particularly in ranges (pp. 211–19, 64–75%, the 1939–45 war, May–November) and where movement is involved (Dublin–Belfast route); but (−3 to 1, not −3–1). Spell out to when the nearby wording demands it: he served from 1939 to 1941, not he served from 1939–1941; similarly, between 1939 and 1941, not between 1939–1941.
    • To substitute for to or versus (4–3 win in the opening game, male–female ratio).
    • To substitute for and between independent elements (Canada–US border, blood–brain barrier, time–altitude graph, diode–transistor logic, Lincoln–Douglas debate; but a hyphen is used in Sino-Japanese trade, in which Sino-, being a prefix, lacks lexical independence.) If the elements operate in conjunction, rather than independently, use a hyphen.
    • To distinguish joint authors from a double-barreled (hyphenated) name: (the Smith–Hardy paper has two authors, but the Jones-Martinez paper has one.
  2. In lists, to separate distinct information within points—for example, between track titles and durations, and between musicians and their instruments, in articles about music albums. In this role, en dashes are always spaced.
  3. As a stylistic alternative to em dashes (see below).
  • Spacing. All disjunctive en dashes (Category 1, above) are unspaced, except when there is a space within either one or both of the items: the New York – Sydney flight; the New Zealand – South Africa grand final; June 3, 1888 – August 18, 1940, but June–August 1940.
  • Redirects. Article titles with dashes should have a corresponding redirect from the title with hyphens (W:Michelson-Morley experiment redirects to Michelson–Morley experiment). For technical reasons, en dashes are not used in image filenames.*

Em dashes*Edit

Em dashes () indicate interruption in a sentence. They are used in two roles.

  1. Parenthetical (WP—one of the most popular web sites—has the information you need). A pair of em dashes for such interpolations is more arresting than a pair of commas, and less disruptive than parentheses (round brackets).
  2. As a sharp break in the flow of a sentence—sharper than is provided by a colon or a semicolon.

In both roles, em dashes are useful where there are already several commas; em dashes can clarify the structure, sometimes removing ambiguity. Use them sparingly—they are visually striking.

  • Spacing. Em dashes should not be spaced.
  • Regular alternative to em dashes. Spaced en dashes – such as here – can be used instead of unspaced em dashes. One style should be used consistently in an article.

Minus signs*Edit

  • No alternatives. Don't use an en dash () or hyphen (-) for a negative sign or subtraction operator; instead, use the Unicode character for the minus sign (, keyed in as −).
  • Exception. In code, a hyphen may be used.
  • Spacing. Negative signs (−8 °C) are unspaced; subtraction operators (42 − 4 = 38) are spaced.**

Clearly, they haven't read Wikipedia's Manual of Style.

Hyphens and dashes are basic to stylish writing in English. Even if your readers aren't quite sure of the precise rules that govern their use, their reading will be easier and their comprehension aided by your systematic use of these punctuation marks. The Manual of Style clearly sets out how to use all three punctuation symbols: hyphens (-), en dashes (–) and em dashes (—). If these three symbols are hard to distinguish visually (- – —), you may need to change your font or browser to a standard one that renders them properly.

If you're unsure how to key in en and em dashes, please see this.

Here, we present texts in which hyphens and/or dashes may be either wrongly used or wrongly absent; in other words, some of the examples are wrong, and some are right. Remember, it's mostly a matter of:

  • whether to use a symbol at all;
  • if so, whether to use a hyphen or en dash; and in a few cases
  • whether the symbol should be spaced or unspaced.

Em dashes are a quite separate beast, and much easier to use. Many writers don't use them at all; they use spaced en dashes – like this – instead of unspaced em dashes—like this—for their "interrupters". It's up to you.

The exercises: unfolding design. Each exercise below will present you with a portion of text in which you can correct the (mis)usage of hyphens and dashes. They are designed to be done in your head, without typing. Each one unfolds in stages that you control: first, the problem text, then a hint to help you along; then a solution; and finally an explanation.

Feedback is welcome on the talk page. For each exercise, decide on the answer in your mind before clicking on the solution. You may find this video on hyphens and dashes useful in conjuction with the exercises. User:Tony1/Writing exercise box

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