The two dashes, en (-) and em (—), are slightly different in size and use. They are often misused, so you can set yourself apart by knowing how to use them properly.
En dashes are the width of an –n and show continuing times or dates.
I’ll be signing autographs from 9-10 p.m. between July 1-22.
Em dashes are the width of an –m and used for:
- inserting additional information (usually unexpected but important) into a sentence.
- The man—fat by all standards—was convinced he should wear a Speedo;
- lists when the list in is the middle of a sentence.
- The men she loved most—her father, her husband, and now her lover—had all betrayed her.
- Write em dashes using two consecutive dashes together (–) with no space between the dashes and letters.
- If you are worrying about the difference between a hyphen and an en dash, don’t. Should you be in a situation where one must be used over the other, you’ll probably have an editor or publisher who will do this for you.
People often have trouble deciding whether a number should be written numerically or spelled out. If that’s you or you have troubles knowing when to add a hyphen, there are some basic rules to follow.
Use numerals for:
- addresses- Do you have any clue what 221b Baker Street, London is known for?
- dates and times- I was born December 29, 1978 at 3:25 a.m.;
- decimals- try eating 3.14 slices of pi;
- measurements- the average person weighs 17 lbs (7.7) more than their ideal weight;
- money- a decent haircut in the West costs at least $30, not including tip;
- temperature- the coldest temperature recorded in North America is 81.4 F (-63 C);
- scores- The LA Lakers won their game against the Knicks 106-101;
- statistics- Nearly 51% of all people have experienced PMS.
- Write the word rather than the numeral if it comes at the beginning of a sentence: One-fourth of South Korea’s population lives in Seoul. Use hyphens to separate fractions.
- Add a comma after every three digits. McDonald’s has served more than 100,000,000,000 hamburgers to customers all over the world.
- You may shorten larger numbers such as million (M) or billion (B) with an initial. Whether you have $1M or $1B, you’ll still be able to buy ice cream for everyone.
- If a number is smaller than one, use a zero before the decimal. My stock finally went up by 0.03% today.
- Use –s without the apostrophe for plural numbers. AIDS became a global concern during the ’80s and ’90s.
The semi colon looks like a comma with a dot over it. There are two good uses for these:
- to connect two strongly related independent clauses, with the second elaborating the first: I was beside myself; the cloning was successful.
- for separating items in a list (when the items already contain commas): The children demanded to be recognized, not patronized; to have chocolate ice cream at lunch, not just vanilla; and to have more play time.
Using it like a comma:
Wrong– I never got used to some of the food in Asia; particularly dog.
Right– I never got used to some of the food in Asia, particularly dog.
Using it after a complete sentence to introduce examples:
Wrong– Life can be summed up by two things; birth and death.
Right– Life can be summed up by two things: birth and death.
Quotation marks are for words or phrases taken from someone else.
- Place punctuation inside of quotation marks. If a quotation ends in an exclamation or question mark, don’t add additional punctuation. “Are you insane?” you might ask. And I would say, “Only after sitting on a computer chair for hours writing about English mechanics.”
- Even if the punctuation is not part of the original text, add it inside the quotation Remember, “add it inside.”
- Place punctuation other than a period or comma that is not part of the quote outside of the quotation marks. Is it necessary to say, “Stop typing if your bum is chafed”?
- When paraphrasing or clarifying inside a quote, add square brackets. “To be [alive] or not to be, that is the question,” or “To [live] or not to [live], that is the question.”
- Omit the quotation marks if you’ve already added the marks earlier in your writing.
- Use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes. The critic said of Forrest Gump, “It was simply unbelievable. And with lines like, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates,’ I just didn’t get it.”
- For a quote preceded by an introductory verb like said, claimed, or stated, use a comma. I said, “For a quote introduced by a verb like said, claimed, or stated, use a comma.”
- But if blending a quote into your own writing, don’t begin with a comma. Napoleon noted that “history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.”
- If the quote comes at the end of a sentence without being introduced by a verb like said, use a colon. President Nixon inadvertently immortalized his association with corruption and scandal with the words: “I am not a crook.”
Using quotation marks for emphasis:
Wrong– I’m “unhappy“ with your performance.
Why? When you put quotation marks around common words, it indicates sarcasm. Using modifiers such as adverbs or adjective would be the best option, but you can also use bold or italics.
Right– I’m extremely unhappy with your performance.
Right– I’m unhappy with you performance.
Right– I’m unhappy with you performance.