Punctuation: Not Separated at Birth: The Dash and the Hyphen (and Let's Add the Ellipsis for Fun)

Not Separated at Birth: The Dash and the Hyphen (and Let's Add the Ellipsis for Fun)

The dash and the hyphen are like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito: confused so often they are taken for each other. But like these two fine actors, the dash and the hyphen are not the same, no sireee.

  • A hyphen is one click on the keyboard: -
  • A dash is two clicks on the keyboard: ?
  • An ellipsis is three spaced periods: ?

Therefore, the dash is twice as long as the hyphen. That's not all; the dash and hyphen have totally different uses. Not to mention the ellipsis.

The Dash: Long and Lean

Basically, the dash is used to show emphasis. Here's how:

  • Use a dash to show a sudden change of thought.
  • Example: An archaeologist?of course I don't mean you?is a person whose career lies in ruins.
  • Use a dash before a summary of what is stated in the sentence.
  • Example: Avoiding work, getting liposuction, becoming a finalist in the George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open?everything depends on that trust fund.

The Hyphen: Short and Sweet

The hyphen, in contrast, is used to show a break in words.

  • Use a hyphen to show a word break at the end of a line.
  • Example: When you finish The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style, Sec-
  • ond Edition, your written work will be as sharp as your appearance.
Strictly Speaking

You could make it through life fine and dandy without a dash, but you'd be the poorer for it. Like argyle socks, the dash shows flair and style. It creates rhythm and emphasis in your writing.

  • Use a hyphen in certain compound nouns.
  • Example: great-grandmother
  • Use hyphens in fractions and in compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
  • Examples: one-half, sixty-six

The Ellipsis: Dot, Dot, Dot

The ellipsis, in contrast, indicates a break in continuity.

Danger, Will Robinson

Don't use an ellipsis to show that words have been omitted from the beginning of a sentence. Just omit the words and keep right on going.

  • Use an ellipsis to show that you have deleted words or sentences from a passage you are quoting.
  • Example: Abraham Lincoln said: ?Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth ? a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.?
  • Use an ellipsis to show a pause or interruption.
  • Example: ?No,? I said. ?I ? I need my space.?
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style 2003 by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.