Hyphens and the like

Like most other writers, I rely on the keyboard to tell me what I am supposed to type. If it is not there, I don’t use it. Out of sight, out of mind, right? But there are instances where the “rules” of punctuation are not clear and it behooves us, as writers, to do a little digging in order to better understand those rules before we release out work.

I realize that most readers would not know the difference in uses between
and en dash and an em dash. And most memereaders would not be able to distinguish the difference between and en dash and a hyphen. And many readers would never know the rules about when to use each of them in the course of writing. However, we as writers, are a little more discerning. We certainly want to make sure that our book “baby” is perfect before sending it out into the big, bad world.


Connects two things that are related. Example: toll-free call

En Dashes:

It is a little wider than the hyphen and is primarily used to indicate a range. Example: Psalms 119:1–3, 1921–1935, Pages 14–17.

Em Dashes:

There are several uses for the em dash and they are the width of the capital M.

They are used to set off a series of items within a sentence that is already using a comma.

Ex.: My children—Tom, James and Claire—all get along, most of the time.

They are used to express a break in thought.

Ex.: I want—I need—to take a vacation to relax.

They are used to  introduce a summarizing thought.

Ex.: To get my book written—that was my objective.

They are used to give emphasis to elements within a sentence.

Ex.: Key ingredients—baking soda, vanilla, and salt—were left out of the recipe, causing it to be a flop.

They are used to fill in for missing letters.

Ex.: The famous Mr. K—y was not present for the gala.

They are even used to indicate a missing word.

Ex.: Dear Diary, I ran into — at the grocery store today and I was afraid he would recognize me so I ran to the bathroom.


So, some of you might be wondering, “That is all well and good, but how do I get them ‘written?'” Well, there are some ways to do it in Word, but I have found that the easiest way, for me, is to use the Alt key.

En dash: Alt + 0150

Em dash: Alt + 0151

You must use the keypad and not the numbers above the letters.

I hope this basic tutorial has helped just a little. I have learned so much in my short time taking the class and I intend to share as much as I can with you in the coming weeks and months.

Stay tuned for my next installment where I plan on discussing another editing tip/trick.

Keep on writing!





One thought on “Hyphens and the like

  1. I wanted to tell you, I went back through Caryl’s little book Story and Style and it is a good little book. She still hasn’t sent me my book with edits in it but wanted to let you know. Maybe you could ask her to be there for questions you have and let her know you are taking a class. But you do what you want.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s