Those Silly Short Lines

A hyphen or a dash. Short dash, long dash. Those silly short lines.

We all know that the hyphen (-) is used to hy-phen-ate, and we all know that the short line is used to do this, so it should be easy to remember that the short line is a hyphen and the long line is a dash. Yet we sometimes forget. (It really doesn’t help that there are two types of dashes, each different from a hyphen.)

The keyboard just has a hyphen. No dash. You can easily make a dash in Microsoft Word. With Word’s AutoFormat as you type feature turned on, type two hyphens consecutively mid-sentence, like this – and they turn into a dash.

The better way to make the dash is to hold down the Alt button while typing 0150. Why does it matter? If you publish an e-book that you typed in Word, it might make a difference.

The downloadable Kindle previewer (said to be more reliable than the online previewer) with Device set to e-Ink device and Kindle Selected, for example, might show a box in place of a dash made from Word’s AutoFormat feature. Use the Alt method to produce the symbol without AutoFormat. (That’s for those of us who cling to the convenience of Word. The safer way is to learn how to properly modify the HTML.)

The en dash (–) is just one of two common dashes. The other is the em dash (—). Hold down Alt and type 0151 to make the em dash. It’s said to be good form to choose one dash or the other and be consistent.

Well, be as consistent as English allows. Use the en dash for a sequence, as in 42–81 (this time without the space). Give credit to the source of a quote with the em dash, as in the following (this time with the space).

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. — Cyril Connolly

Here, the em dash indicates a quote (in lieu of quotation marks) and also indicates the author to whom the quote is attributed. (If you want to use a horizontal bar instead of the em dash, you know too much for your own good. Or, at least, for my own good.)

We know that the letter ‘n’ is shorter than the letter ‘m,’ so this should help to remind us that the en dash is shorter than the em dash. We still sometimes forget.

The en dash is used with spaces – like so. The em dash is used without spaces—like this.

When reading e-books, we sometimes see the hyphen used in place of the dash. Was it a mistake? Or was the author playing it safe, worried that an e-reader might not recognize the dash? Or did the author see a box in place of the dash when carefully checking the previewer?

En–ie em—ie miney moe,

Pick a dash by its toe!

If it hyphen-ates,

Let it go!

This blog was brought to you by the following punctuation marks:




Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (and Formatting Pages for Publishing on Amazon with CreateSpace – coming soon)

One comment on “Those Silly Short Lines

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