Hyphens and Dashes: Hyphens
Hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes are all lines, right? Yeah, for the most part, but the funny thing is that the lines are all different. They represent different things for different reasons, and you’ll be surprised to know that you probably know what they mean.
En dash (–)
Em dash (—)
You can see that the length is different. Cool. We’re going to delve in one at a time, and today we’ll begin with hyphens.
Hyphens are chains for words. An easy way to remember it is when you see them in words. “In-flight” is an example. They modify a noun, and the end result is a compound adjective. Separate, “in” and “flight” mean something different. It’s defined as in a flight, but “in-flight” modifies the term to identify a specific adjective in regard to a noun. Flight is no longer the noun.
Hyphens between words create adjectives. Most of the time.
Now, keep in mind that this isn’t always necessary. If the adjective follows the noun, you won’t need a hyphen unless it’s labeled as such in the dictionary. Look it up. A comma can separate the two as well.
EX: After school, I’ll attend tutoring for math.
I need to attend after-school tutoring.
We’re writers, so sometimes we come up with fun, playful twists on words. We’re word-flipping geniuses. Well, I’m not. Obviously. But look at that right there. The odd adjective I came up with? It’s hyphenated. Keep it that way with things like that.
Age and Money
This is one with which I used to have a lot of problems. I’m not sure why.
With age, it’s common to see someone described as a ___-year-old child/man/etc. Since it’s used as an adjective, the hyphens are necessary. As described in the first subtitle, all adjectives are hyphenated before nouns. Otherwise, don’t do it. “The man is 80 years old.” That’s not hyphenated because it comes after the noun. As an odd rule, too, “years” is plural. This kinda defines it differently to say the man is a number of years old. You’re talking about his age instead of using his age as an identifier. Make sense?
This is the same with money. “20-dollar purse” or “purse for 20 dollars.” The former is interchangeable, however. If the purse was $20, you can say “20 dollar purse.” If it’s cheap and you’re describing its poor quality, “20-dollar purse” might better fit your preferred meaning. Remember that once you let go of the hyphens, whatever comes after is part of the noun or remainder of the sentence.
When using a “from this to this” description, which mostly describes time, en dashes are used, though sometimes hyphens are substituted. Time, specifically. Dates are different for publishers and style formats, so it really depends. Publishers like en dashes. But time is pretty solid throughout all styles, to my knowledge.
DO NOT PUT SPACES BETWEEN THESE.
None of this:
10:00 – 11:45 p.m.
20 – 30 people
10- 12 feet
Hyphenate fractions, maiden names with last names, overused words (like middle school, one hundred), and some prefixes that contribute to suffixes (co-worker, sub-contracted, etc.)
Why does this matter?
This is style. In addition, your meaning is different if you don’t use it right.
I don’t know what the small-town man wanted in such a big city.
I don’t know what the small town man wanted in such a big city.
The first sentence labels the man as one from a small town. The second labels him as a small “townman.” I’m not sure what a townman is, but that’s what it sounds like. Here’s another example.
Whenever you see the blue-footed bird, let me know.
Whenever you see the blue footed bird, let me know.
The first is a bird with blue feet. The second is a blue bird with feet. That’s good. At least it has feet.
So, there are tons of things to say on this subject, but for the most part it’s easier to read a sentence slowly if you’re unsure. Look it up in the dictionary or ask someone to help. Sometimes, hyphens are used too much. Watch out for that. What are you trying to describe? Where is your noun? Where is the adjective? Here’s a quiz to see if you have this idea grasped. If not, ask questions and I can always add to this article. It’s a lot to say, which is why I’m doing one at a time!
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