When Do I Use a Hyphen Versus a Dash?

dash

When is it appropriate to use a hyphen or a dash?

Hyphen

The main use for hyphens is to connect two or more words into one word that creates a single thought or concept. “Money-saving ideas,” “2-liter bottle,” and “second-grade teacher” are examples of combining two words into one with hyphens.

Another appropriate use for hyphens rather than dashes is when writing numbers—at least, numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine. In both formal and professional writing, it is inappropriate to write numbers like this: 55. Instead, the proper way is to spell the numbers out, as follows: fifty-five. In informal writing, however, a hyphen acts as a substitute for “to” when listing value ranges or game scores.

  • “If you reach 90-99% of your goal, you will have a yellow sticker placed by your name.”
  • “The Cadets won the game with a 34-20 score, so they are now 2-1 for the season.”
  • “The temperature range for Thursday will be in the range of 74-77 degrees.”

Dash

Dashes are twice as long as hyphens. They are used to show an interruption or as a substitute for “it is,” “they are,” or other expressions of a similar nature. Dashes can also be used in place of parentheses. Typically, in word processing programs, when two hyphens are typed together, it becomes a dash. In the written word, when indicating an interruption, they are often found in speech.

  • “I really must leave before—“she paused as the doorbell rang, signaling her doom.
  • “You need to go get cleaned up before—“the oven timer buzzed, causing Ben to smile. “…before we eat dinner,” Rachel finished.
  • Andrew—the quarterback during my senior year—was uncharacteristically kind throughout his high school career.
  • There’s only one person who could let this chaos happen—Amanda.

All these are examples of how dashes can be used.  With these and the examples of uses for hyphens, the questions concerning when to use hyphens versus when to use dashes has an answer. Each has a few specific uses, but those uses cannot be confused. Hyphens are used to connect words into a single concept (and can be suggested when speaking), while dashes are used primarily in the written word to indicate interruption, as a substitute for parentheses, or as a substitute for “it is,” “they are,” or other similar expressions. By understanding the different uses for hyphens and dashes, you’ll be able to double-check your next writing project to ensure proper grammar.  Of course, sometimes its just easier to hire an editor!

~Holly

Additional Dash/ Hyphen Resources:

Purdue OWL

Grammar Book

Grammar Girl

St Michaels College

 

 

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