Monday, January 19, 2009

More Q & A...

Lifeliong Learner left a comment on one of the posts, asking the following:
Can you explain the proper use of dashes and hyphens?

Well now, sure I can, but trade secrets are hard to come by. Too much could be said about this subject so I'll restrict myself here.
Hyphens: They join words which, after a while, everyone sort of agrees should be joined. Often, those two words, "everyone" will later agree, should just go ahead and become closed up, and then you'll want to skip the hyphen and make one word out of two. Hyphens also are crucial in joining certain words on a case-by-case basis, but perhaps we'll get into adjectives and modifiers later. The little line on your keyboard after 0 (zero) is a hyphen. In the days of typewriters one would enter two of these consecutively to make a proper dash. So it would look like one longer line broken in the middle. This is still done, but in MS-Word you can go to Insert, Symbols and find the...
"Em Dash": Which gives you an even longer, and unbroken, line. This is what we mean by a good old regular dash -- something to separate one thought from another, usually in the manner of simple offsetting. Word will insert the em dash with no space on either end, following the trend for decades of saving space. What's interesting is how this appears to be changing recently. You can even see newspapers (who are always fussy about space) leaving a space on each end of the dash, thus giving the eye an easier, more opened-up journey along the page.
En Dash: Just time enough here to give a fun example of this shorter dash, the last most anyone will ever need to wrry about. This is also found in Insert, Symbol and usually is used for ranges -- for example, page ranges. Okay: "He took the Boston-New York flight." What, is there now a city called Boston-New? No. And even though we may all know what this one means, properly we need an en dash instead of that hyphen up there. Why? It has to do with the fact that New York is made of two words. If "he" took the Boston-Chicago flight, he'd arrive safely with the hyphen.

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