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Hyphens and Dashes

Hyphens and Dashes look similar.

This is a hyphen: –

This is a dash: — (made by writing two hyphens)

Connect Words and Numbers with a Hyphen

You can combine two words with a hyphen to create a compound adjective or name:

I love ChineseAmerican food.

MaryLou ConwayRichardson had the longest name in her class.

Numbers from 21 to 99 are also written with a hyphen:

My greataunt Eileen is almost ninetyeight.

It’s Brad’s twentyfirst birthday next week.

Replace “To” with a Hyphen

Instead of writing “to”, you can use a hyphen.

Malachi took the Boston to New York City train.

Malachi took the BostonNew York City train.

I prefer temperatures in the 20 to 25C range.

I prefer temperatures in the 2025C range.

Substitute Other Punctuation with a Dash

Dashes are less formal than colons, semicolons, parentheses, commas and ellipses, but they can be used some of the same ways.

A dash can replace a colon, but only if it is not followed by a list.

Right: There’s only one person that I love in the whole universe: you.

Right: There’s only one person that I love in the whole universe you.

Right: Lee has three favourite sports: curling, water polo, and lacrosse.

Wrong: Lee has three favourite sports curling, water polo, and lacrosse.

In informal writing, you can replace a semicolon with a dash, if the two clauses are short and contrasting.

I’m vegetarian; my brother is a butcher.

I’m vegetarian my brother is a butcher.

Parenthetical (or non-restrictive) phrases can be set off by commas, parentheses, or dashes. These punctuation marks are not interchangeable, however.

In phrases that start with who or which, a commas is best.

Right: Dominic, who came in first place this year, began training at age five.

Okay: Dominic (who came in first place this year) began training at age five.

Bad: Dominic who came in first place this year began training at age five.

When the parenthetical phrase is an independent clause, you can’t use commas

Right: I was devastated about dropping all my china (my grandmother had given this heirloom set to me at my wedding), but I managed to salvage some of it.

Right: I was devastated about dropping all my china my grandmother had given this heirloom set to me at my wedding but I managed to salvage some of it.

Wrong: I was devastated about dropping all my china, my grandmother had given this heirloom set to me at my wedding, but I managed to salvage some of it.

Use ellipses or a dash depending whether you want to create a slow trailing off or a quick break.

Slow: I wonder where I put my keys…. Oh! I know!

Fast: I wonder where I put my keys Oh! I know

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