How To Use Hyphens And Dashes

How To Use Hyphens And Dashes

A guide to punctuating your writing using hyphens and dashes. This film explains the conventional way of punctuating English writing using hyphens and dashes.

Step 1: End of the line

A hyphen is used primarily to indicate that a word has been cut off at the end of a line, but is con- tinued on the next line.

Step 2: Compound words

The hyphen is also used to write compound words: these are words that are made up of two separate words. This is done to avoid confusion, by helping a reader understand the intended meaning:

A sugar-coated almond is clearly an almond coated in sugar.
But a sugar coated almond is more ambiguous.. it might be a grain of sugar wearing an almond-coloured coat.

The best way to know if you need to hyphenate is to read the words out loud.

Step 3: Prefixing

When using prefixes like ‘pre,' ‘anti,' and ‘non,' you can either hyphenate or join the word to the prefix. On the whole if it makes the word easier to understand and easier to read, use one:

This sofa needs recovering.
This sofa needs re-covering.

Some words are hard to read if you don't hyphenate them: Preempt is harder to understand than pre-empt.
Antiaircraft is harder to understand than anti-aircraft.

There are times when you should definitely use a hyphen for a prefix:
Firstly, when the prefix is followed by a capital letter: non-EU countries
Secondly, you should also hyphenate a prefix when it is added to a compound word. So the cold-war world becomes the post-cold-war world.

Because “postcold war world” doesn't make sense.

Step 4: Partial hyphens

Finally, you can use a hyphen to indicate that you're writing part of a hyphenated word:
Pre-war Berlin was very different to post-war Berlin.
Pre- and post-war Berlin were very different.

Step 5: Bracketing dashes

A pair of dashes is used to indicate a strong interruption in the sentence; in a similar way to bracketing commas. The difference is that you should use bracketing dashes when the interruption violently disrupts the flow of the sentence, or makes a point that is separate from the main point of your sentence:
No honest politician – if such a creature exists – would agree to such a plan.

Step 6: Ranging

You can also use dashes to represent a range of numbers, dates quantities etc:
Steel contains 0.1-1.7% carbon.