A dash isn’t just “a dash”—there are different dash lengths—one em, two em, three em, and one en. An em is the width of a capital M and an en is one-half the width of an em.
THE EM DASH
The em dash can be used:
In place of commas
- For emphasis to set off nonessential phrases.
- She had four sports cars, but my favorite—the red Corvette.
- Where a nonessential phrase already contains commas. If a dash would create too emphatic of a break, use parentheses
- My “death row” meal—consisting of fried chicken, greens, and mashed potatoes—is also my comfort food.
- When you want to give special emphasis to the second part of a compound sentence, use a dash instead of a comma
- The movie should have won an Academy Award—and the directors all knew it.
In place of a semicolon
- Use a dash for a stronger but less formal break where independent clauses are closely related.
- She should not have taken the job—for one, she does not have basic Word skills.
In place of a colon
- Use a dash to introduce explanatory words, phrases, or clauses when you want a stronger but less formal break.
- Our marriage secret is simple—what’s mine is mine and what’s his is mine.
In place of parentheses
- When you want to give a nonessential element a strong emphasis, use dashes instead of parentheses.
- Susie—she’s been with the firm for 15 years—should be a great source of information for you.
THE EN DASH
The en dash is half the length of an em dash. You should use the en dash to connect numbers in a range and to mean “up to and including” when used in situations such as:
- The office is open from 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
- Her vacation is planned for May 2–10.
- His homework was to read pages 386–435.
- Our offices are on Floors 13–16.
An en dash is also used as a minus sign.
One would think typing dashes is easy. Not so! Here are some guidelines
- Do not just type a hyphen for a dash.
- In word processing programs, you should have access to an em dash. In Word 2010, it is under Insert, Symbol, More Symbols, Special Characters.
- The en dash is in the same place.
- If you don’t have access to the characters, you can construct an em dash by typing the hyphen twice with no space between the hyphens and no space between the hyphens and the words on both sides of the hyphens.
- A two-em dash indicates missing letters in a word. If you don’t have a two-em dash, type four consecutive hyphens (again with no spaces between or around), i.e., Mrs. S—-h.
- A three-em dash indicates where an entire word has been left out or needs to be provided. If you don’t have access to a three-em dash, type six hyphens (with no spaces between or around), i.e., She said her annual salary was $——.
- If your word processor doesn’t have an en dash, use one hyphen.
- Always type the dash at the end of the line and do not start a new line with a dash.
That was a lot about the simple dash, but dashes are different from hyphens and should be treated differently. So dash a quick note—using correct dashes—to let me know if you learned something. Then share this post with others who need to know about dashes.
I’m not sure where this one came from, but it’s interesting and a perfect example of looking at things when they are “final” to make sure they are correct. It would be nice in this case to make sure the definition of “rollback” means that it WAS higher and has been rolled BACK so that it is now less expensive.
This one came from Twitter. It is hard to believe that not only did a sign maker make the error, but the business owner has not removed it and demanded that it be corrected.
A few weeks ago, a blog post went over several words that are frequently confused by writers (See More Confusing Words!). Here are a few more:
casual – informal
causal – causing
cereal – breakfast food
serial – a series
choose – to select
chose – did choose (past tense of choose)
cite – to quote
site – a place
sight – to see
click – a slight, sharp sound
clique – an exclusive group
cliché – a trite phrase
collision – coming violently together
collusion – fraudulent scheme
complement – something that goes well with something
compliment – a flattering remark
council – a body of persons specially designated or selected for a purpose
counsel – an attorney; to give advice
consul – a foreign representative
cue – hint
queue – a line, especially people waiting their turn
dairy – cows and milking equipment
diary – a journal of daily activities
It’s always important to make sure you are using the same words, particularly when they are easily confused. Take the time to look up definitions if necessary to make sure you are using the correct word.
I found this on Twitter and it really highlights why you shouldn’t exclusively rely on word processing program spell check and grammar check to proofread your work.
Couldn’t resist sharing this timely giggle. Enjoy your Easter!
I wasn’t aware that bananas had bones (or maybe I don’t shop at the right place–we don’t have Piggly Wiggly’s in Arizona) but actually reading the signs might help sell the correct product.
Apparently, according to this news story, only one teacher across the nation is striking. That is because they made the singular word teacher possessive by adding apostrophe “s” rather than making the plural word teachers possessive by just adding an apostrophe. It seems that a strike would be so much more effective if multiple teachers across this great nation were involved.
Due to technical difficulties when I was on vacation, my friend Kerie was not able to post this article about good old-fashioned grammar, but we will include it this week. Many thanks to Kerie!
Recently, while traveling with two friends in the back seat of a taxicab in Tulsa, Oklahoma following the 2014 NALS Professional Development and Education Conference, Kathy spotted a sign advertising “old fashion” root beer floats. The sign not only spoke to our ice cream cravings, but also sparked a grammar debate about the terms “old fashion” and “old-fashioned.” After some discussion, we decided we needed to do some research on the terms to clarify the appropriate usage.
As it turns out, our friends at the ice cream shop were wrong. “Old-fashioned” is a compound adjective meaning not in accord with or not following current fashion; or fashioned in a manner of old. When used as an adjective, it describes a noun, for example;
- old-fashioned root beer float;
- old-fashioned candy;
- old-fashioned Christmas;
- old-fashioned costumes.
“Old fashioned” can also be used as a noun, meaning a cocktail made of whiskey, bitters, sugar, and fruit. Notice that “old-fashioned” when used as a compound adjective has a hyphen because we link two adjectives by a hyphen when we use them to describe a noun. When used as a noun, “old fashioned” has no hyphen. My guess, though, is that the ice cream shop was advertising root beer floats and not liquor.
“Old fashion” is used colloquially (read incorrectly) and often in advertising, but it is simply incorrect.
I wasn’t going to use pictures of English Grammar Giggles from vacation, but can’t resist. In one picture, they had “peppers” right everywhere else on the menu and in the other, a misplaced comma makes the dish more than a little scary. Happy Monday!