Hyphens and Dashes

Hyphens and dashes have to be used properly as punctuation marks to avoid confusion. In this lesson, we will learn all about them.

Hyphens and Dashes in English

What Are Hyphens?

Hyphens (-) are punctuation marks that are used to join words together, or to separate parts of a word. They play an important role in making writing clear and easy to read. The important thing to remember about hyphens (-) is they are not the same as dashes (– and —).

Hyphens: Uses

Hyphens are used to:

Join Prefixes to Word Roots

Using a prefix can change the meaning of the root word. Some prefixes are joined to a root noun or verb using a hyphen. Here are a few examples:

  • re-press
  • ex-boyfriend
  • anti-aircraft
  • self-service
  • pre-teen

Forming Compound Nouns

To form a compound noun, we use a hyphen between the nouns. Here are the examples:

  • passer-by
  • daughter-in-law
  • comedy-ballet
  • dinner-dance
  • soldier-statesman
  • tractor-trailer

Forming Compound Adjectives

Sometimes we can use hyphens between numbers and nouns to form a single adjective. These are called compound adjectives. For example:

  • four-bedroom house
  • absent-minded person
  • wishy-washy smoothie
  • new-born baby
  • six-page book
  • two-year-old girl

Warning

Do not hyphenate the adverbs and the adjectives that come after them. Here are the examples:

Highly stressful → ❌highly-stressful

Using dashes to express appositives

Enhancing Clarity and Readability

Hyphens are also used to make the meanings clearer and the words easier to read. Sometimes the meaning of the words would change without the hyphen.

  • re-sign
  • re-design
  • re-read
  • re-elect

What Are Dashes?

Dashes are punctuation marks that are used to set off a phrase or clause. They are longer than hyphens and come in two forms: the en dash (–) and the em dash (—).

Em dashes

Em dashes (—) work like parentheses and commas and add non-essential information to the sentence, especially when the information we are adding doesn't fit well with the sentence. The em dashes can be used with space on either side or without spaces, depending on the style of writing. For example:

My best friend—who I haven't seen in years—got married yesterday.

Years ago — never mind how long precisely — I thought I could run all around the globe.

En dashes

En dashes (–) are used to replace words such as 'and', 'through', and 'to' in numerical ranges, when describing directions, relationships, or scores. Pay attention to the examples:

World War I (1914–1918) was a great disaster.

a numerical range

Midwest-southwest bridge

describing directions

Sometimes, especially in British English, the en dash does the same thing as the em dash and adds extra information to the sentence. In these cases, there are spaces on both sides of the en dash. Although commas can be used for this purpose too, dashes are preferable when the information we are adding doesn't fit well with the sentence.

Jeff – who is my best friend – already went back home.

Why Do We Use Dashes?

When we want to add a set of appositives we should put them between dashes. For example:

Do not forget to bring the stuff—flasher, ball, match, etc.

The puppy—a golden retriever—is my newest pet.

When we want to repeat an emphatic part or phrase in a sentence, we can use a dash at the beginning of the emphatic part. Check out these examples.

The beautiful sky—the clear blue sky—was filled with sea birds.

His eyes—his ocean blue eyes—forced me to think about him all the time.

Review

Hyphens and dashes are used to make special combinations.

Hyphens are widely used to make:

  • compound nouns
  • compound adjectives

Dashes are usually used to express:

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