Dashes (-, –, —)
Dashes come in three sizes:
- the hyphen (or minus sign),
- the en dash (the width of a non-proportional “n”),
- the em dash (the width of a non-proportional “m”).
Generally, only the hyphen and the longer dash appear in fiction.
—Em dashes have specific uses for interruptions, but they can also replace parentheses or commas.
The AP Style puts a space before and after the dash.
The Chicago Manual does not put a space before or after the dash.
- “When can he—or can he—?”
- “I never thought”—his voice grew softer—“Bill would ever do such a thing.”
- She had no money to buy the groceries she needed—bread, milk, and broccoli.
- Pick a day that you can come—Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday.
- That horse—the one I bought yesterday—just broke my arm.
- That horse (the one I bought yesterday) just broke my arm.
- That horse, the one I bought yesterday, just broke my arm.
- (All three sentences convey the same information.)
Phrases that offer examples
If introduced by a dash, a closing dash should follow the rest of the introduced phrase, unless it ends the sentence.
- He wrote, “I really have little use for dashes—that is, except when I’m writing.”
- “Dashes can be useful at times—for instance,” he added, “when someone stammers when they are talking.”
Ranges of time, numbers
- The conference is scheduled for July 8–12.
- That was the longest assignment I ever didn’t read—pages 52–175.
- (em dash follows “read” to introduce a list, en dash between the page numbers)
The hyphen is a busy little character, although not as busy as the comma.
- She put up a sign for her missing two-year-old cat.
- A short-term solution may not work well in the long run.
In case of doubt, check a current dictionary. Some nouns that used to be hyphenated are now put together as a single word.
- Cindy often goes to the movie with her sister-in-law.
- Her great-grandfather found her missing checkbook.
Hyphenated adjectives in a list
- Sixteen- and seventeen-year-old students may only take the GED® examination with special permission.
- One-third- and one-half-pound burgers are too big for me!
Numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine (except multiples of ten)
- One hundred twenty-two years and counting, Jeanne Calment is the oldest living person as of October 31, 2018.
- He wrote out the check for seventy-four dollars even. He forgot the eighty-five cents.
- He missed cutting the board to the right length by three-fourths of an inch.
- He could only eat a half of the hamburger.
Ranges of number, time, distances (AP Style)
- Regular working hours are 8-5 Monday-Friday.
- They must have spent 1,000-1,500 euros on their vacation.
- Pre-Christmas sales begin now in October!
- They only sold post-1990 books.
The child did not like caterpillars until she found out they became butter-
flies. Then she thought they were beautiful.
Benjamin stared at the words in his new reader. They were incom-
presible to the fourth-grader.