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 make compound combinations.The first thing about hyphens (-) is they are not the same as dashes (–) , (—).

Why Do We Use Hyphens?

They are used to form:

Join Prefixes to Main Parts

Using a prefix can change the meaning of the main parts. Prefixes are joined to the main noun or verb by a hyphen. Here are a few examples:

  • re-press
  • ex-boyfriend
  • anti-aircraft
  • self-service
  • dog-lovng

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 use them as a single adjective before nouns. These are called compound adjectives. For example:

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


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

Highly stressed → ❌highly-stressed

Clarity and readability

to make the meaning and the ability to read the word clear. sometimes without the hyphen the meaning of the word would change as well.

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

What Are Dashes?

Dashes (also called em dashes) are actually formed by putting two hyphens beside each other without any space (—). Dashes are slightly longer than hyphens.We have two kind of dashes 'en dashes' (–) and 'em dashes' (—).

Em dashes

Em dashes (—) work like parenthesis and commas ( adding non-essential information to the sentence) and as we mentioned earlier this usually is when the information we adding doesn't fit well (grammatically or just doesn't flow with the sentence). The em dashes can both use with space on either side or without spaces. Depends on the style of the writing.

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.

using dashes makes the sentence clearer cause the reader won't have to think about why the punctuation is there.

En dashes

En dashes (–) is used to replace the word "and"," through" and "to" in situations like numerical ranges, describing directions, relationships, or scores.

The world war one (1914–1918) was a great disaster.

Midwest-southwest bridge

Sometimes (in British English the en dash does the same thing as the em dash in these cases there are spaces on both sides of the en dash). To add extra information to the sentence (yes, commas do that too). Dashes are preferable when the information we adding doesn't fit well (grammatically or just doesn't flow with the sentence).

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

Why Do We Use Dashes?

When we want to name 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 of 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 full of the sea birds.

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


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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