Concordia's Guide to Hyphens & Dashes

May. 15, 2020 by Adriana Thompson

student writing in notebookWhether you major in English at Concordia University Texas or another discipline, it's important to use proper punctuation. Hyphens and dashes are often overlooked, but they have different uses and unique meanings.

We've put together this guide to help you understand the proper uses of hyphens and dashes.

The Humble Hyphen

The hyphen (-) is typically used to join individual words together to form a single idea. These are known as compound phrases.

Compound nouns are easy to identify. Simply look up the word in the dictionary to ensure it's hyphenated. Common compound nouns include check-in, father/mother-in-law, student-athlete and great-grandmother. Use the same approach when determining whether a compound verb is hyphenated, such as nickel-and-dime.

Compound adjectives are more complicated. Only hyphenate a compound adjective if it comes before the noun it's modifying.

Example: The student attended the on-campus career fair.

If the compound adjective comes after the noun it's modifying, then no hyphen is necessary.

Example: The student attended the career fair on campus.

Also, don't hyphenate a compound adjective if the first word in the phrase is "very" or an adverb ending in "ly."

Example: The poorly lit classroom made it difficult to see the board.

                 You will take a very interesting course during your senior year.

"Poorly lit" doesn't require a hyphen, and neither does "very interesting."

Do not include spaces on either side of the hyphen.

Learn more about the proper uses of hyphens.

En Dash

The en dash (–) is longer than the hyphen but shorter than the em dash.

You use the en dash for ranges of numbers, dates or time.

Examples: I joined Concordia University Texas during the 2019–2020 academic year.

      Daily Chapel happens every weekday, 10 a.m.–10:30 a.m.

      The tournament runs April 30–May 2.

Think of the en dash as representing "to" or "through." If you can replace the en dash with one of the words and it makes sense, then an en dash is likely what you should use.

Examples: I joined Concordia University Texas during the 2019 to 2020 academic year.

      Daily Chapel happens every weekday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

      The tournament runs April 30 through May 2.

Most style guides, except AP Style, omit spaces before and after the en dash. Check the style guide you follow to determine whether or not you should include spaces.

Most keyboards don't offer an en dash option, but there's a simple way to use it.

For PC users, hold the Alt key and type 0150.

For Mac users, hold the Option/Alt key and the hyphen key simultaneously.

Em Dash

The em dash (—) is the longest of the three punctuation marks, and it's used to set phrases apart. It can replace commas, colons, semicolons and parentheses.

The em dash causes a strong break within the sentence, and it indicates that the information contained after or within a pair of em dashes is incredibly important. It is one of the most dramatic ways to draw your reader's attention to information.

Example: I opened the admission letter from Concordia University Texas — accepted!

Most style guides, except AP Style, omit spaces before and after the en dash. Check the style guide you follow to determine whether or not you should include spaces.

There's also no keyboard option for an em dash.

For PC users, hold the Alt key while typing 0151.

For Mac users, hold the Option/Alt key, the Shift key and the hyphen key simultaneously.

Do grammar, literature and writing fascinate you? Major in English at the premier Christian university in Austin — Concordia University Texas.

 

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