Grammar Greatness: Hyphen versus Dash smackdown.

October 14, 2019 | By | Reply More

The Hyphen – is a short horizontal line, and often confused with its longer cousin, the Dash.

Hyphens have three main uses …

  1. The Hyphen can be used to join words that need to be glued together (called “compound words” by grammar pros).


  • Brazil is a Portuguesespeaking nation.
  • The MiG25 Foxbat is the world’s fastestmoving fighter jet.
  • My fatherinlaw did not approve of me, at first.

2). The Hyphen can be used to stick a prefix to the start of a word.


  • It was a postnatal ward.
  • Trump will be the expresident one day.
  • They created a new subcategory just for me.

3). The Hyphen can be used to glue numbers together in a sentence.


  • My father just celebrated his eightyninth birthday.
  • I earned thirtythree thousand Dollars last year.

Then, there’s the Dash

The Dash is longer than the Hyphen and comes in two flavours, the En Dash (long) and Em Dash (extra-long).

The En Dash is so-called because it used to be as long as the letter “N” during the days of physical typesetting in printers, while the Em Dash was as long as the even wider “M”.

En Dashes are often used to write ranges, or to separate two statements instead of a comma.

En Dash Examples

  • I won every Football prize on the team from 19992005.
  • I hit the orc with my sword Blood-biter hard!

Em Dashes are used for change of pace and dramatic effect, as well as as to herd off less important text.

Em Dash Examples

  • I slammed my car into the Porsche chasing me hey, nice pink furry dice!
  • My friend Bob a useless friend, but a pal all the same was sadly my only friend who survived the zombie plague outbreak.

These two bad boys rarely feature in grammar/punctuation exams, but using hyphens instead of dashes in indie-published books leaves you looking like an amateur.

Category: Wizard of Words

About the Author ()

I have been working as a full-time author publishing fantasy and science fiction novels for HarperCollins for the last seven years.

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