top of page

Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes, and Ellipses

Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes, and Ellipses are all punctuation marks that serve different functions in writing.
How they differ and how they are used.
Hyphens (-):
Hyphens are the shortest of the four punctuation marks and are used to join words or parts of words together.
They are commonly used in compound words, to differentiate between similar words, or to divide words at line breaks.
En Dashes (–):
En dashes are slightly longer than hyphens and are primarily used to indicate a range of values or connections between elements.
They are used for showing inclusive numbers, periods of time, and connections between locations or concepts. 
Pages 10–15
New York–London flight
January–June semester
Em Dashes (—):
Em dashes are the longest of the three punctuation marks and are used to set off a phrase within a sentence for emphasis, interruption, or explanation.
They can replace commas, parentheses, or colons in certain contexts and are often used to add emphasis to a statement. 
The sky darkened—ominous clouds gathered overhead.
I saw her in the crowd—there was no mistaking those bright red shoes.
His favorite dessert—chocolate mousse—was served after dinner.

(I confess, I somehow didn't know about the Em dash and I'm an English major, plus I taught writing for years! Welp, I'm embarrassed to report, my research revealed the Em dash has been used in writing for several centuries. Its exact origins are somewhat difficult to pinpoint, but it has been a common typographical element in printed material since at least the 18th century. The Em dash takes its name from the width of the letter "m" in a particular typeface, as it is typically the same width as the letter "m" in that font. Finally, the Em dash has evolved over the years to serve various purposes in punctuation and grammar.)

Note: The Em dash isn’t on most keyboards. But, you can find it by clicking  “insert,” right next to HOME on your top horizontal menu. Scroll right and click on “symbol.”  If the drop-down menu doesn’t have the Em dash, click on “more symbols,” then “special characters,” and voila!
Ellipses (…):
Ellipses consist of three dots and are used to indicate omitted words in a quotation, hesitation, trailing off in thought, or a pause in dialogue.
They can convey a sense of incompleteness, uncertainty, or suggest that more information or emotion is left unsaid. 
"To be or not to be, that is the question…"
She hesitated before replying, "I'm not sure if I can…"
The note ended abruptly, leaving an air of mystery…
Understanding the nuances of hyphens, En dashes, Em dashes, and Ellipses can help to effectively convey tone, structure sentences, and clarify meaning in your writing.

Have you used all of these punctuation marks? Have you used the Em dash?

2 views0 comments


bottom of page