Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Writing Tip of the Day: Dashes

We all love using dashes in our prose, so here are tips on using the right kind.

To begin, here are the three types of dashes:
The hyphen: -
The en-dash: –
The em-dash: —

The hyphen is used to connect words.  Ex: mother-in-law.

The en-dash is used to indicate a range of numbers.
Ex: My finished manuscript will be 75,000 – 80,000 words.

The em-dash, according to Strunk and White, is used to "set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary." It is "stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than a parentheses."
Ex: My Sunday writing class—taught by a copywriter-turned-novelist—is full of useful info.

How to type dashes

En-dashes and em-dashes are both typed by using two hyphens. However, your PC will automatically turn your hyphens into an en-dash when you leave a space before and after.
When you type: My finished manuscript will be 75,000 -- 80,000 words.
Your computer changes it to: My finished manuscript will be 75,000 – 80,00 words.

When indicating an em-dash, leave no space before and after the double-hyphen.
When you type : My Sunday writing class--taught by a copywriter-turned-novelist--is full of useful info.
Your computer changes it to: My Sunday writing class—taught by a copywriter-turned-novelist—is full of useful info.

Note that you can also insert an em-dash by holding your alt key and pressing 0151 on your numeric keypad.
For an en-dash, hold alt and press 0150. 

Hope you're enjoying these tips!


(With apologies to Mac users, I have to idea how any of this works for you. Sorry! I'm a PC gal.)

2 comments:

Alyssia said...

My friends and I are really, really loving these tips, Ellen. Thank you so much!

Ellen said...

You're very welcome, Alyssia! Glad you're finding them helpful.