Just a Dash

Deciding between a hyphen and a dash in a sentence, title or even a sports score can get a little confusing. No more. I’ve got some quick pointers to help decide which line to use.

The Hyphen

It’s also referred to as a dash, but no, that button to the right of the zero on your keyboard is a hyphen. It has three main purposes: to join words together (such as mother-in-law) or  two adjectives that modify a noun (such as full-service firm), and to break up a word if it doesn’t fit at the end of a line (some-
thing like this). It’s as simple as that.

The Em Dash

As a very popuar dash, when people say dash, they mean the em dash, or they should mean the em dash. This dash is much longer than the hyphen and gets its name from being — you got it — as long as the capital, typed “M.” The em dash is the one you use in a sentence, sometimes in the place of commas, or to separate a list, but mainly to emphasize an interruption in a sentence with a new thought. Here are some examples:

Our new clients — Have you met them yet? — are coming in for lunch at noon.

We covered three topics — writing, production and public relations — at the seminar today.

It’s important to use em dashes sparingly in writing, but they are useful when making a point and separating thoughts in a sentence. We use spaces between em dashes, according to AP Style, but other sources say it’s a style preference.

Even though this is just a dash of punctuation 101, it’s important to keep it fresh in our minds here at Parthenon. How do you use your dashes and hyphens?