Hyphens, En Dashes, and Em Dashes: So Similar, So Different

Hey folks, Eric here.

If you’re anything like me, on any given day the intricacies of punctuation can seem completely fasinating or utterly mind-numbing. On one hand it’s a fantastic system of marks that adds meaning and organizes thoughts, and on the other hand it’s just a series of dots and squiggles.

The resemblance is uncanny!

As an Illustrator and Designer (but mostly schooled as an Illustrator) I want to think of punctuation as dots and squiggles, but I need to know the rules and intricacies.

I’ve solved this professional dilemma through the strategic use of sticky notes surrounding my monitor.

But to save you the hassle of poring over style manuals and creating your own gallery of sticky notes, I’ll be posting some helpful rules that no one taught me while I was busy drawing still lifes of fruit.

LESSON 1: When to use a Hyphen, En dash, or Em dash

Hyphen (-): Shorter than both em and en dashes. No space before or after.

Uses: To make compound words, and when breaking a word over two lines.

Example 1: I scream for ice-cream!

Example 2: It is important to control one’s emo-
tions when considering dessert options.

En dash (–): Roughly the width of an N, a little longer than a hyphen.

Uses: It is used to connect ranges of date or time when you might otherwise use “to,” or any range of numbers. Opinions vary but we use a space before and after.

Example 1: We’ll be on vacation December – October.

Example 2: Avoid dairy products that are 6 – 12 weeks old.

Em dash (—): the width of an M, longer than a hyphen or an en dash. No space before or after.

Uses: To indicate an abrupt change, or break in thought.

Examples: Who wants cookies—did I leave the gas on—they’re chocolate chip!

09 Feb 2011, Posted by amy in Studio News, No Comments. Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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