January 20th, 2012
It’s easy to learn when and how to type a dash instead of a hyphen.
Hyphens (-) connect words, while dashes (—) connect larger parts of a sentence. This paragraph illustrates the difference:
Twitter, the minimalist-format social network that claims to have 100 million users, has built its reputation around its simplicity. Members can post to the service only in text messages of 140 characters or less. They can include a link to another site, or to a photo or video. They can repost other users’ messages on their own pages. They can send each other equally spartan private messages. That’s about it — or so it seems.
A hyphen is used most often in two-word phrases that come before a noun (such as the phrase “two-word” before the noun “phrases” in this sentence).
A dash dramatically separates one idea from the rest of a sentence, calling attention to the words that follow it. Before “or so it seems” in the quote above, a journalist uses a dash to emphasize that Twitter has more uses than the obvious ones he’s just listed.
In Microsoft Word on a Mac or a PC, you can use the hyphen key to type a dash:
- On a Mac, you can type a dash by holding down the Option key plus the hyphen key
- On a PC, you can type a dash by holding down the CTRL key plus the hyphen key
Add a space both before and after this kind of dash, and your prose can instantly look more polished.
Write It Well’s book Essential Grammar includes two chapters on punctuation. We’ve made all the book’s exercises available as a free download here to accompany the e-book, which is now available on Amazon.com!
Do you have an important document but not enough time to clarify your thoughts and double-check your punctuation and grammar? Just use Write It Well’s editing services to make sure your readers follow your ideas and respect your voice.