Grammar Fail: Tour De Dash, Part 1

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.

Update: Part 2 (en dash) and part 3 (em dash) are now live.


7 thoughts on “Grammar Fail: Tour De Dash, Part 1

  1. wow, as a former English teacher, I’m pretty sure I once taught the hyphen does work in range of pages…but I’m pretty sure that’s what the textbook taught…yikes. Wish I had known this before. Thanks for the insight!

  2. The rules have loosened up some, though I still think it’s better to differentiate. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment.

  3. Okay, I was cool on the hyphen’s use, but I’m not up on the use of an en dash. I use em dashes frequently, but now I’m wondering if I’m using them correctly. But we’ve got to wait ’til next week, huh?

  4. Pingback: This Week in Publishing 4/9/09

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