Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Punctuation II : Hyphen v En Dash

Now let’s take a look at the distinction between a hyphen and an en dash. Hyphens (-) and en dashes (–) cannot be used interchangeably.

The Hyphen (-)

1. The hyphen is used for linking compound words (e.g. avoid the build-up of waste products; ensure the garment is not dry-clean only), and for words with a prefix (e.g. the pre-war collection), but not in phrasal verbs (e.g. don’t build up your hopes too much).

2. The hyphen is used in compounds which modify nouns (e.g. he was a well-known academic; compare, e.g. the academic was well known), and for showing that a certain group of words in a sentence should be read together (e.g. try our new bake-it-yourself bread).

3. It can also be seen when splitting a word at the end of a line in printed text: the formatting can be automatic or manual, and there are rules about how words should be split.

The En Dash (–)

The en dash is so named because it is the width of the letter n. It is longer than a hyphen. To type an en dash press the Control key and the minus key on the number pad. There are four main uses of the en dash.

1. Range of values

  • 2000–2010
  • September–December
  • 16–18 marks
  • pp. 20–40

2. Relationships and connections

  • father–son relationship
  • Mann–Whitney U Test

3. Breaks (which could be marked by a comma, semicolon or colon)

  • I’m sure I’ve been here before – the buildings look so familiar

4. Parenthesis (which could be marked by brackets)

  • Her mother – who was a scary woman – insisted on being present

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