A slapdash approach to hyphens

A slapdash approach to hyphens

I have a confession to make.

It may come as a surprise for someone who is a copywriter for HRM and a features writer for unLTD magazine.

A trained journalist who’s worked in the media for 15-plus years.

And someone who spends a great deal of time on Twitter sharing copywriting dos and don’ts, quirky quotes about language and (what I consider) interesting origins of well-known or weird words.

Here we go, then. Until quite recently, I did not know the difference between en dashes and em dashes.

Let’s be totally honest, actually. I had never heard of them.

I love a good dash — I think it creates more impact than its comma cousin.

I just had no idea of the sheer variety of them. You could say I took a slightly slapdash (sorry) approach to my knowledge of the punctuation mark which I probably (over)use more than other.

That was until my colleague and unLTD editor Rich Fidler started proofreading magazine copy and drew large red circles round every en dash that should have been an em dash on the pages.

So through a combination of learned colleague, and other trusted sources (OUP Academic and PR Daily) I now know:

Hyphens indicate words which should be read as a unit and are about avoiding ambiguity.

A small-business owner is the owner of an SME as opposed to a diminutive boss.

En dashes are longer than a hyphen, but half the length of the em dash and connect continuing numbers, including dates and times.

Please read chapters 2 – 4 of the HRM reading group book tonight.

Em dashes are used when you want to introduce additional information in a sentence but don’t want to set it off with commas or brackets.

I am embarrassed — nay, mortified — by the gaps in my punctuation prowess.

Right, confession time is over — must ‘dash’!