In today’s Writing Tip, we’re going to talk about dashes (—) and hyphens (-). This is a pretty intense topic, so buckle up and prepare yourself for some extreme learning.
These cute little guys come in two varieties: em dashes (—) and en dashes (–). Can’t tell the difference? Em dashes are slightly longer. I know it doesn’t look like it, but trust me! I’m a professional. (God help us all.)
So these are the ones you use in lieu of brackets and commas to separate out phrases in a sentence (presumably there are other uses as well). I’ve seen em and en dashes used interchangeably (apparently en dashes are often used in date ranges, i.e. 1994–1998), but I favor em dashes, mostly because I like how they look. Anyway, here’s an example of dashes in action:
The awesome thing about dashes—and here I’m going to get technical, so watch out—is that they look like little snakes. I know, I know, it’s crazy. I’ll say, “Yo yo, Humphrey, H-skillet, this here dash dun look like a tiny little snake dude—” And Humphrey gets so irritated with my inability to correctly formulate English sentences that he interrupts me by pulling out an actual, live snake and throwing it at my face. But the fact remains that dashes—or any straight line, for that matter—are eerily reminiscent of our slithery brethren.
These are also called “short dashes” by very silly people, including myself. Sometimes I’ll even call dashes “long hyphens”, because I’m depressingly inconsistent in my terminology. Regardless, hyphens are the ones you use to connect words together, like “twenty-one” or “American-owned” or, when referring to the Dark Lord, “Good-old-What’s-his-face”.
Here is an example of hyphens in action:
In nineteen-eighty-one, I met a seventy-two-year-old man whose name was Johnathon Preposterously-Long-Surname. Mr. Preposterously-Long-Surname was the child of Mary-Anne Preposterously and Billy-Bob Long-Surname. Billy-Bob himself was the child of hyphenated parents, Gracia Long and Eustace Surname, who combined their names to create the aforementioned “Long-Surname” moniker.
So, to wrap up, dashes and hyphens are different. They’re not interchangeable. And they’re really confusing when used too much in a single paragraph, as can be seen above. They are also part of very violent punctuation gangs who roam the streets at night correcting grammatically incorrect graffiti and getting into fist-fights (correct use of hyphen, incorrect use of spelling!). So be aware, and stay safe out there, my blogging compatriots!
Unrelated media of the day:
New music video by Marianas Trench making fun of pop songs …