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Punctuation

Not Separated at Birth: The Dash and the Hyphen (and Let's Add the Ellipsis for Fun)

The dash and the hyphen are like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito: confused so often they are taken for each other. But like these two fine actors, the dash and the hyphen are not the same, no sireee.

  • A hyphen is one click on the keyboard: -
  • A dash is two clicks on the keyboard: —
  • An ellipsis is three spaced periods: …

Therefore, the dash is twice as long as the hyphen. That's not all; the dash and hyphen have totally different uses. Not to mention the ellipsis.

The Dash: Long and Lean

Basically, the dash is used to show emphasis. Here's how:

  • Use a dash to show a sudden change of thought.
  • Example: An archaeologist—of course I don't mean you—is a person whose career lies in ruins.
  • Use a dash before a summary of what is stated in the sentence.
  • Example: Avoiding work, getting liposuction, becoming a finalist in the George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open—everything depends on that trust fund.

The Hyphen: Short and Sweet

The hyphen, in contrast, is used to show a break in words.

  • Use a hyphen to show a word break at the end of a line.
  • Example: When you finish The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style, Sec-
  • ond Edition, your written work will be as sharp as your appearance.
Strictly Speaking

You could make it through life fine and dandy without a dash, but you'd be the poorer for it. Like argyle socks, the dash shows flair and style. It creates rhythm and emphasis in your writing.

  • Use a hyphen in certain compound nouns.
  • Example: great-grandmother
  • Use hyphens in fractions and in compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
  • Examples: one-half, sixty-six

The Ellipsis: Dot, Dot, Dot

The ellipsis, in contrast, indicates a break in continuity.

Danger, Will Robinson

Don't use an ellipsis to show that words have been omitted from the beginning of a sentence. Just omit the words and keep right on going.

  • Use an ellipsis to show that you have deleted words or sentences from a passage you are quoting.
  • Example: Abraham Lincoln said: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth … a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
  • Use an ellipsis to show a pause or interruption.
  • Example: “No,” I said. “I … I need my space.”
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style © 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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