Welcome to Writing Tip Tuesday, the Dashes & Hyphens edition. This is the sixth in a series of posts pulled from my free guide “On Not Writing Badly.” You can download the whole thing by filling out this form, or, if you’d rather not subscribe to my email list, you can simply check back here over the next several Tuesdays for a regular dose of word nerdery.
Dashes & Hyphens
Joins numbers in a range. The en-dash should not be confused with the em-dash, which is slightly longer.
Example: Contestants with numbers 4-12 were called to the next round.
Used to demonstrate a mathematical equation. It looks the same as an en-dash, but has spaces on either side.
Example: 5 – 3 = 2
Used like parentheses to pull out an independent phrase, but reserved for phrases of more importance. In most word processing programs, they are a special character. Note that they are about twice as wide as an en-dash.
Example: The group consisted of three men—Jack, Abe, and Zach—who worked in local government.
Note: The em-dash tends to emphasize material, whereas parentheses de-emphasize.
Rule 1: Used to join two or more words that come before the noun they are intended to modify.
Example: An off-campus apartment (use hyphen)
Example: The apartment was off campus. (no hyphen)
Rule 2: Used to tell the ages of people or things when the age is given before the noun.
Example: A two-month-old baby (use hyphen)
Example: The baby was two months old. (no hyphen)
Rule 3: Used to write out numbers under 100 and fractions
Words That Should Always Be Hyphenated
Any words using the prefix “ex”: ex-wife, ex-employee, ex-husband
Any words using the prefix “self”: self-doubt, self-evident
Any words using the prefix “all”: all-inclusive, all-around
Any words using the prefix “anti” where the second word starts with an “i”: anti-inflammatory
Any hyphenate where the second word must be capitalized: un-American, non-English