With the advent of the computer, more and more writers are using word programs to write. The convenience and speed are incredibly helpful, but it’s come at the cost of knowledge about spelling, grammar and punctuation.
This time, I’d just like to draw attention to the three types of dashes.
This is a form of punctuation used to separate compound words, such as water-powered or heat-seeking. This is the minus key on standard keyboards and is noticeably shorter in length. Originally, I believe hyphens were meant to be slightly diagonal as we can see above, but now they’ve been mixed up and confused so much that it’s become interchangeable with a dash. Hyphens are appropriate from most word breaks and compounding (including hyphenating telephone numbers).
In typography, “en” is a unit of length around the width of the letter “N”. The En Dash gets its name from this by being roughly that wide. It is used to describe a range of values or distance. For example, the range: people between ages 18 – 30 would use an En Dash. This blog doesn’t actually auto-correct the length of dashes so my dash up there is the same size as a hyphen, which is wrong. I could copy and paste one to be correct but I thought that it would be a good example of how this typographical standard remains ignorant to most. In terms of distances, the En Dash sort of replaces the word “to”, such as: the Sydney-Tokyo flight was delayed.
Similar to the En Dash, this gets its name from it’s length being that of the letter “M”, which is roughly twice the length of an “N”. The Em Dash is used to denote parenthetical elements to a sentence, similar to using commas as a parenthetical marker. As the word parenthetical comes from parenthesis, some of you may already know what I mean by this. For those that don’t, I’ll have to use an example.
The building, still burning from the attack, began to crumble.
The two commas are used to describe some attribute of the subject that may not be directly a part of the sentence. Similarly, the Em Dash can be used for the same purpose, but is often used to denote abrupt parenthetical elements.
The building – a burning and crumbling mess of shattered stone and woodwork – was no longer the proud fortress it had once been.
Due to its abrupt nature, the Em Dash is also used in fiction to denote interruption in dialogue, such as: “Hey Bob, what was that sou-“. Again, wordpress doesn’t correct it to the proper length dash so just take note that even though I used a hyphen, it should be an Em Dash.
So just remember guys, not all dashes are the same! Make sure you’re using the right one, or at least understand the difference.