Tag Archives: grammar

How to Use an En dash, Em dash and Hyphen

hyphen, en dash, em dashWe all know what a hyphen is: that tiny horizontal line that shows a break in a word that starts on one line and jumps to the next:

She phoned me during my after-
noon break, so I missed her call.

Hyphens also join words to clarify meaning or to form a single idea from two or more words:

    • small-business owner
    • son-in-law
    • fifty-five
    • 7-year-old
    • self-esteem

The hyphen, however, is just one of three horizontal lines that help us communicate clearly. There are two more: the en dash and the em dash.

En Dash

The en dash, so named because it is about as wide as a capital letter N in your chosen font, shows duration or span. Use it where you might otherwise use to:

    • Children ages 3 – 5 get in free.
    • Please bring 2 – 4 dozen cookies to the party.
    • You’ll find the passage on pages 17 – 19.

But avoid the en dash to show duration when you use from … to or between … and:

    • The Korean War lasted from 1950 to 1953.
    • The theater will be open between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for a special event.

Em Dash

The em dash, so named because it is about as wide as a capital letter M in your chosen font, shows an abrupt change in thought within a sentence or an emphatic pause:

    • I am tired of — or should I say completely disgusted with — the partisanship in Congress.
    • We will go to New York to see Hamilton in May — if my tax refund arrives by then.
    • After waiting for what seemed like forever in the terminal — the flight was three hours late — I finally saw my son.

An em dash also sets off an author’s or composer’s name at the end of a quotation:

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” — Mark Twain

How to make a dash

    • To create an en dash on a PC, press the ctrl+minus keys.
    • To create an em dash on a PC, press the ctrl+alt+minus keys.
    • To create an en dash on a Mac, press the option+hyphen keys.
    • To create an em dash on a Mac, press the option+shift+hyphen keys.

Associated Press style suggests no space at either end of a hyphen but to insert a space before and after an en or em dash. The Chicago Manual of Style and the American Psychological Association style dictate no spaces with hyphens or dashes.

Hyphens fill many roles

Hyphens fill many more roles than do en and em dashes. For tips on hyphen use, see these past posts:

When Does a Compound Modifier Need a Hyphen?

When do ‘More’ and ‘Most’ Need a Hyphen?

You’ll Love This Hyphen Shortcut

Do you have a friend or colleague who might benefit from these tips? Please share!

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Me, Myself and I: How to Choose Which to Use

kids on bikesDid you as a child ever say, “Me and Billy wanna go for a bike ride!” and have your mom admonish: “Billy and I.”

What about, “Can me and Suzie have a popsicle?” and your mom corrected you, “Suzie and I.

Mom no doubt was trying to teach you the courtesy of mentioning the other child’s name first, but your brain might have been imprinted to avoid me.

No wonder so many of us steer clear of me in places where it truly is the correct choice. The problem: We’re supposed to know better by the time we grow up and communicate with adults in the business world. These tips will help you get it right. Continue

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The Ellipsis: When to Use It, How to Make It

ellipsis spelled outWhen do you use an ellipsis, and how do you create one?

An ellipsis (plural: ellipses) is three sequential dots (periods) that can show:

    • an omission of words, phrases or even sentences from an original statement or document
    • a pause greater than is indicated by a comma
    • a trailing off of thought

Let’s consider what two primary style guides say about ellipsis use: the Associated Press Stylebook (my preference) and the Chicago Manual of Style. Continue

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When Does a Compound Modifier Need a Hyphen?

woman ponders compound modifiersModifiers are words that provide additional information about or limit the meaning of a word or phrase.

Adjectives modify nouns (person, place, thing). They often are called “describing words,” because they provide more details about a noun.

  • She has a pleasant home.
  • There are three boys sitting on the fence.
  • He’s riding the white horse.

Adverbs modify verbs (action), adjectives, and even other adverbs. They answer questions such as when, where, how, and to what extent.

  • when: She travels to Chicago weekly.
  • where: He dropped the shovel there.
  • how: She pedals her bike furiously.
  • to what extent: He mostly agrees with me.

When a single modifier won’t do the job, a hyphen links the elements to form a compound modifier:

  • She holds a full-time job.
  • He is a good-looking man.

The Associated Press Stylebook, my primary grammar reference, has issued new recommendations for how to hyphenate compound modifiers. Continue

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What Is a Style Guide, and Why Do You Need One?

Whether for a person, a product, a service or an organization, creating a distinct, consistent brand is key to success.

Your brand sets you apart. You achieve a unique brand through images (your logo and product photos), through website content (descriptions of products and services), and through whatever additional forms of marketing and advertising you use.

Behind the scenes, your brand is supported by how you communicate with and serve your customers. Continue

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How to Use Apostrophes to Show Possession

apostrophe with possessivesConfused about where to place the apostrophe when you’re creating possessives?

So am I — especially when a noun (person, place or thing) or proper noun (specific person, place or thing) ends in the letter s or ss.

Consider these examples and how you would pronounce them: Continue

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Capitalize iPad or eBay to Start Sentence?

iPhone_orIPhoneMost of us know to capitalize the first letter of a sentence. It’s one of the few written-in-stone grammar rules.

But what about the i in iPhone or the e in eBay? Aren’t those registered brand names?

Do you write “iPhone prices will drop this fall” or “IPhone prices will drop this fall”? Continue

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Might vs May: Are They Interchangeable?

Do I use 'might' or 'may'?

If you have trouble deciding when to use might and when to use may, this post is for you.

As a writer and ruthless editor who strives for clarity, I prefer this clear distinction:

might implies possibility
Eric might go to the movie tonight.
(There is a possibility Eric will go to the movie.)

may implies permission
Eric may go to the movie tonight.
(Eric has permission to go to the movie.)

Yet I find multiple sources online that offer what I consider this unsatisfactory claim about the difference between might and may: Continue

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Hey Millennials: Don’t Forget the Interview Thank-You Note

Millennials Say Thanks

Jason Busch

According to most age guidelines, Jason Busch qualifies as a millennial (born 1980s through 1990s).

That’s why I was so delighted to see his column, “The Power of a Thank-You Note,” in the April 2019 issue of In Business: Greater Madison (Wisconsin) magazine, where he is online editor.

You’ll find plenty of folks who believe that expressing thanks has gone out of style — especially the handwritten versions, and especially among young people.

Even Jason admits:
Continue

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