Punctuation: Hyphens and Dashes

The way musical notes guide musicians when they play a tune, punctuation marks guide readers and tell them about the intonation of the text.

Hyphens and dashes look similar, and the fact that we use the same key on the keyboard to denote both of these symbols creates more confusion.

There are differences in the usage of both and this article aims to highlight those.

HYPENS: They are used to connect words to form compounds. Earlier, they were used to show a break in writing due to shortage of space.

  • This Smartphone is so user-friendly!
  • Tina works in a Bengaluru-based IT company.
  • A ten-year-old was kidnapped.
  • Please send me an e-invite.

DASHES: There are two types of dashes: the em dash ( — ) and the en (-) dash.  Dashes can be used to create emphasis in a sentence.

The Em Dash: It is used to create a strong break in the structure of a sentence. They are particularly useful in long and complex sentences or in one that has a number of commas in it.

  • Please call my doctor—Alex Thompson—on Friday.
  • My sister loves strawberry—my brother loves vanilla.

The En Dash: It is used more like a hyphen. It can be used to show range (40-50 people) or in place of versus ( The Odd – Even debate ).

Tip: Use it to express a “to” relationship.

  • There will be 15–25 kids at the party.
  • The flight from India–Dubai is not too long.

Hyphen versus Dash

  • A hyphen ( – ) is shorter than a dash ( — )
  • A hyphen never has spaces on either side, whereas the en dash does have spaces on either side.
  • A hyphen is used to used to link individual words together whereas a dash is used to introduce a parenthetical comment in a sentence.

Taking the above example, let’s see how replacing a hyphen with a dash can change the meaning:

Correct: Please call my doctor—Alex Thompson—on Friday.

Incorrect: Please call my doctor-Alex Thompson-on Friday.

(To use a hyphen here would be incorrect as ‘doctor-Alex’ and ‘Thompson-on’ do not make any sense at all.)

Keep all these points in mind to avoid confusion!



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