Punctuation Rules: Hyphens and Dashes

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Here, students will revisit the rules of punctuation that govern the usage of hyphens and dashes. A hyphen (-) is a punctuation mark that's used to join words or parts of words. It's not interchangeable with other types of dashes. A dash is longer than a hyphen and is commonly used to indicate a range or a pause.
1. Hyphen and Dash
Use a hyphen:
1. To divide a word that cannot be completed before the end of a line. Split the word properly between
syllables, using a dictionary if unsure of correct divisions.
2. To divide the parts of certain compound words. Check the dictionary to determine if a compound
word needs a hyphen.
3. To join two or more words serving as a single adjective before a noun. No hyphen is used if the
adjectives come after the word they describe.
i.e. "We have an up-to-date computer system."
"Our computer system is up to date."
4. To spell out the written form of fractions (one-half, two-thirds) and compound numbers from twenty-
one to ninety-nine.
5. With the prefixes all-, ex-, and self-, and with the suffix –elect. Also, in a series, hyphens are
suspended for each item.
i.e. Do you prefer first-, second-, or third-class tickets?
Note: Do not insert a hyphen to divide a long Internet address at the end of a line, because a hyphen could
appear to be part of the address.
Use a dash:
1. To set off a sudden break in thought or an abrupt change in tone.
Example: "The large house–and make no mistake, it was large–burned to the ground."
2. To show faltering speech in a dialogue.
Example: “Would–would you please help me?” he asked quietly.
3. Between an introductory series and that main part of the sentence that explains or amplifies the series.
Example: “Marble-topped tables, two Singer sewing machines, a big vase
of pampas grass–everything was rich and grand,” wrote Carson
McCullers in her book.
4. To set off a noun or noun phrase that already contains commas.
Example: The basic needs of people–food, clothing, and shelter–are costly
in big cities like Los Angeles.
5. Before the name of an author after a quotation taken from his or her writings.
Example: “Gladly would he teach and gladly learn.” –Geoffrey Chaucer.
Note: In typing, use two hyphens with no space in between. In writing, use one long, horizontal line.
Dashes should also be used sparingly to avoid creating a choppy effect.