Hyphen and Dash


In the world of writing, punctuation marks often hold more power than most people realize. They guide readers through the myriad of written statements, offering invaluable help navigating complex sentences. One such key player in punctuation is the hyphen and dash. Used correctly, these elements can help create clear, readable, and sophisticated texts. Let's delve into the world of hyphens and dashes and understand their uses, rules, and examples.

What is a Hyphen?

A hyphen (-) is a short line used in English writing to connect words and parts of words. It's the smallest of the horizontal punctuation marks. Its primary duty is to connect two words that work together as a single concept or show a relationship between two words.

Types of Hyphens

There's only one typographical form of the hyphen, but we can categorize its usage into two parts:

  • Compound words: These are words created by combining two or more words together. Examples include 'mother-in-law' and 'all-inclusive'. Issues may arise with open compounds (two separate words, like 'post office') and closed compounds (a single word, like 'superman').
  • Hyphenated Numbers: When writing compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine, they should be hyphenated.

Hyphen Usage Rules and Examples

  • Compound Adjectives: Hyphens are used to create compound adjectives, combining two or more words that jointly describe a noun. For example, 'best-dressed man' or 'high-quality product'. Do remember that compound adjectives that come after a noun should not be hyphenated. ('The man was well known.')
  • Prefixes and Suffixes: They are typically used with hyphens as well. For instance, 'post-graduate' or 'ex-wife'. There are exceptions though, so it's best to check with a dictionary.

What is a Dash?

A dash is broader than a hyphen. It's a versatile punctuation mark that can function in several ways. Dashes can be used instead of commas, colons or brackets to mark boundaries between words or parts of a sentence. Unlike hyphens, dashes are conspicuous, which means they can noticeably break up your writing. This makes them useful for placing significant pause or break.

Types of Dashes

There are two primary types of dashes, and each serves its function:

  • En Dash (–): As a general rule, an en dash, about the width of an 'n', denotes range or connection, as in 'June–July' or 'New York–London flight'.
  • Em Dash (—): An em dash, named for its length being approximately the width of the letter 'm', serves as a parenthesis or colon, marking an aside or interruption. For instance, 'My car—a red sedan—is parked outside.'

Usage of Dashes

  • Em Dash for Interruption: If you've got a sudden interruption in your sentence, em dashes are your best bet. Such as, 'I saw her—wait, who was that?'
  • En Dash for Range: If you're indicating a range, an en dash is the correct punctuation. For example, 'Her scores ranged from 70–85%.'

Hyphen vs Dash – Don’t Confuse Them

It's crucial to remember that these two punctuation marks have different roles and should never be interchanged. A hyphen connects, while a dash separates. Although they might look similar, their use can really impact the meaning of the sentence. So, avoid using a hyphen when you need a dash and vice versa.


Though it may initially seem insignificant, understanding and properly using hyphens and dashes can significantly improve your writing. It might be a bit overwhelming at first, but with practice, using these punctuation marks will become second nature. As you continue to write and read more, pay attention to how hyphens and dashes are used – you'll soon become a natural!

Leave a Reply