Contrary to popular belief, the hyphen is not the be-all-end-all member of the dash family. It’s merely a bit player. Actually, there are three types of dashes: the hyphen (-), the en dash (–), and the em dash (—). Each has its own part in the grand scheme of literary theater, and we’ll take a look at all three.
As for the lowly hyphen (sometimes called a dash), it does have some big roles. First, let’s establish the guidelines: a hyphen (-) is used to join words or numbers. It does not “stand in” for something; it only joins or unites. The hyphen:
- joins compound words: left-handed.
- joins complex adjectives: my less-than-stellar bowling skills.
- separates parts of a phone number: 555-555-5555.
- is used for spelling out words: r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
A hyphen does not signify a range of pages or any other range, though it is often used that way. The beast that does denote a range will be unveiled next week.