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What’s the Difference Between a Hyphen and a Dash?

They might all look like lines on a page, but hyphens and dashes serve different purposes. To begin, a hyphen (-) is shorter than a dash (–). Hyphens join words together and dashes indicate range. But that’s just the beginning. If you really want to keep these lines straight, read on.

What is a hyphen?

A mark of punctuation that joins words, or word parts, together.

Hyphen Examples: half-baked, non-violent, twenty-seven

Common Hyphen Uses

Numbers

Numbers written or typed from 21 to 99

Examples: 

twenty-one, ninety-nine

Fractions

Written fractions

Examples: 

two-thirds, nine-sixteenths

Connection

If an entire word cannot fit on a single line, a hyphen is used. This is often seen in newspapers or written work.

Examples:

We are planning an explo-

ration of the Amazon.

 

My English teacher took points off my bibli-

ography since it was not in MLA or APA format.

Compound Modifiers

Words that are joined together to describe the noun that follows.

Example:

kid-friendly restaurant, fashion-forward magazine, MLA in-text citation

Compound Nouns

Two or more words that have been combined to be understood as one.

Example:

six-year-old, daughter-in-law

Note: Compound modifiers  are usually only hyphenated when they come before they noun they describe.

Example:

We live in off-campus housing vs. We live off campus.

The rules for hyphenation are hotly debated and change often. For example, some words that used to be hyphenated, like “homeowners” and “email,” are now simple compound words. To be absolutely sure, use an up-to-date reference guide or dictionary.

Remember: A hyphen’s job is to join words together which means when typed, there should never be a space on either side.

What is a dash?

A mark of punctuation that indicates a range.

Example:

In my opinion 2012 –– 2014 were the best years yet.

 

A mark of punctuation that indicates a non-essential phrase in a sentence.

Example:

Jenny––who called herself my best friend––stole my boyfriend.

Dashes are longer than hyphens and they come in two types.

En dash

The en-dash is the shorter of the two. It is about as long as the letter “N.” The en-dash indicates range.

Example:

For tonight’s homework, read pages 35–50.

 

It can also be used to write sports scores.

Example:

Our team won 75–60.

Em dash

The em-dash is the longest of all. It is about the same length as the letter “M” and should never have spaces before or after. As the longest, it is used when you want to create great emphasis on a phrase.

Example:

After I baked the cakes—twelve in total—the client cancelled the order.

How to create hyphens and dashes in a document

One reason hyphens and dashes are confused is that only the hyphen has a designated key on the typical keyboard, but there is a way to create them all. The hyphen is simply the minus sign on your keyboard. Creating a dash is slightly more complicated and varies between word processing programs. For some, tapping the minus sign twice and hitting the space bar is enough, while others require a combination of the shift, control and option keys. A quick online search will help you find the right solution for your writing tools.

Hyphens and dashes may look similar, but if you can master their subtle differences you are well on your way to defining your own writing style.


Now that you have dashes and hyphens down, review your paper for other grammatical points with the EasyBib Plus essay checker! Check for spelling, subject-verb agreement, and other potential issues. We also have grammar guides to help you learn what is a prepositional phrase, how determiners work, how to use interjections, and other grammar basics.

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