The Three Dashes

Like the Three Bears, the Three Dashes have a Papa Dash, Mama Dash, and a Baby Dash.

The Papa Dash is the biggest, or let’s say the longest dash. It’s called an emdash.

The Mama Dash is the medium-sized one and is called an endash.

The Baby Dash is the shortest and the one we are most familiar with, the hyphen.

I’d like to begin with the Mama Dash, the endash, because it’s easily dealt with. It’s mainly used to separate numbers like dates, or if you want to say an amount such as from 3 to 7. The endash replaces the word “to.”

e.g. 1970 – 1980 or about 5 – 10

In Word, I made the endash by typing the number, a space, two dashes, a space, the other number, and a space.

The Baby Dash, hyphen, is used for joining some words that would otherwise be compound words. I trust my dictionary to tell me which words are compound words, such as “newspaper” and “desktop,” and which are hyphenated words such as “long-term.” This hyphen, though small, can be very important. Consider the compound word “housekeeper” and the hyphenated word, “house-keeper.” The housekeeper would be a person who does a lot of work to keep the house tidy, while the house-keeper could refer to someone like Zsa-Zsa Gabor, who called herself the best house-keeper ever. She was married several times and when her marriages ended she usually kept the house.

The hyphen is also used to connect words that describe a noun.

Here are some examples:

Most are hyphenated before, but not after a noun.

(adjective and noun) He had a high-maintenance girlfriend.

But his girlfriend was high maintenance.

(adjective and participle) We drove on a snow-covered highway.

But the highway was snow covered.

Other uses for the hyphen are for numbers and fractions.

e.g. two-thirds, twenty-seven

And now for the Papa Dash, the emdash. This one is easily overused.

The emdash is the long dash that is most often used for interruptions. There should be no space before or after it, and it is made (in Word) by typing the word, two dashes, the next word and then a space. The emdash will automatically form when you hit that last space.

Uses of emdashes are mainly for interruptions, as in dialogue, or as an emphatic aside. Here are examples of each:

“But I want—”

“I don’t care what you want.”

When I got home he had the house cleaned—he’s such a sweetheart—and even had supper ready.

Don’t be tempted to use the emdash for hesitation or pauses, and be stingy with its use. Too many emdashes on a page can make the text look chopped up. You don’t want to interrupt the flow of your writing unnecessarily. If you use it sparingly, it will be that much more effective when you do use it.

Thanks for reading, and now, excuse me please, but I must dash.

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