The Write Stuff
Fall 2007 Volume 3 Issue 4
Dashes, Hyphens and Ellipses…Oh My!
With no disrespect intended toward the comma, there are several other forms of punctuation you can use to express that a pause is required or to give a clause added emphasis. You’ll notice I used one of my favorites in the headline.
How should you use dashes, hyphens and ellipses? Allow me to shed some light on the matter.
- Dashes. These are a bit confusing, since there are two types: en dashes and em dashes. To make matters worse, I can’t show you the difference, since I’m not using Word to create this newsletter, so you’ll have to use your imagination. An en dash (which is the width of the letter N) means “through.” Therefore, it’s used to indicate inclusive dates and numbers: October 10-15. An em dash (yes, the width of the letter M) is used to create a strong break in a sentence: “The San Jose Sharks–my men in teal–are an early-season Stanley Cup favorite.” You’ll find en and em dashes under Symbols in Word’s Insert menu; Word will automatically turn two hyphens into an em dash as long as there’s no space between the punctuation and the previous word (which there shouldn’t be.)
- Hyphens. A hyphen is shorter than an en or em dash, and as you are undoubtably aware, it appears right on your keyboard (between the 0 and = keys). Hyphens are used to combine words, like “front-running” or to separate non-inclusive numbers such as phone numbers.
- Ellipses. An ellipsis is always three periods, not two, four or any other number. It can be used to denote an intentional omission, an unfinished thought, and at the end of a sentence, a trailing off into silence. Additionally, ellipses can indicate a pause in speech: “As I write this, my Cubs are one loss away from ending their playoff run…so their dreams of the World Series may soon be dashed.” Never put spaces between an ellipsis and your copy.
The “grammar police” are certainly not going to come down on you if you use a hyphen rather than an en dash (which commonly occurs) or if you add spaces on either side of an em dash. But…now you know how it’s supposed to be done!
I hope you have a spectacular fall, regardless of whether you have access to the season’s colorful foliage. Remember that if you need writing or editing support, I’m always ready to be of assistance!