How are En Dashes Different from Hyphens

We talked about the em dash (—) in detail the other day, but there are so many other dashes out there that can’t be ignored. Rarely do we see a piece of writing without a dash of this or a dash of that, but it’s important—and more than that, it’s fun—to learn when and how to use each.

Let’s discuss the tilde (~). It’s usually pronounced TILL-duh, some pronounce it TILL-day, others just call it a squiggly dash. Bloggers around the world generously pour out the squiggly dash like they do salt on a fry.

You might see “~ LOL!” or “~wink~,” but the sad fact is that the tilde doesn’t have much of a presence in writing at all.

In some other languages it’s used to mark a change in letter sound:

Who left their piñata in the garage?

You’ll also see the symbol appearing in some math equations and web addresses. That’s pretty much it.

En dashes (–) got their name from their size. They are approximately the width of the letter “n,” or so they are on typesetter’s machines. And yes, people still do manual typesetting, in fact I’ve tried it myself at Art Bookbindery.

Note that en dashes are not the same size, nor do they have the same function as the hyphen.

Compare the difference: en (–) hyphen (-)

As with the em dash, most keyboards don’t have the en dash and so you need to edit the html or “insert character” (if your program allows). Therefore most writers just use the hyphen, and we turn a blind eye.

The en dash has a few functions:

To mark a range: All mermaids aged 15–18 report to the front desk for fitting.

When hyphenating all caps: That’s a MONDO–COOL backpack, girl! (But please don’t use all caps unless you are 92 and pecking at the keys, or you have a good reason to).

To illustrate a relationship: The father–son campout was a huge success. 152 squirrels were in attendance!

To join compound adjectives: The beaten-down–fired-up quarter back picked himself up, brushed himself off, and got back in the game!

Some of you word nerds may find more uses for the en dash, but that’s all I can think of for now, so let’s move on to hyphens.

A hyphen links two words together. We can think of it as word paste.

beaten-down
fired-up
sister-in-law
low-cost

When do you hyphenate words, and when don’t you? That’s a whole other not-to-brief article that I’d have to write another time. So if you aren’t sure, you can always Google to find out, or—dare I say—”pull out the dictionary.”

And of course we all remember that hyphens are used to “hyphenate” words that need to be broken, should they be too long on a line. We hyphenate between syllables—that I know, but the honest truth is that I’m really bad at hyphenating words, so I won’t even begin to give you examples.

Closing note: do not add a space before or after your en dash or hyphen.

And that’s it for dashes, y’all!


 

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