Hyphen – dash


Dear All,
Sometimes it is possible to hear people using “hyphen” and “dash” interchangeably, however, there exist differences. This post addresses these differences.

First of all, it is worth mentioning that a hyphen (-) is twice shorter than a dash (–-). This is something that can be easily noticed, but to better understand what sets one punctuation mark apart from the other, let’s see what functions hyphens and dashes have.

1. Hyphens are used:

a) to combine two or more words (e.g. adjective+adjective, noun+noun, numeral+noun, numeral+numeral, etc.) into one word:
This is a united Canadian-Ukrainian space project.
She got married and her surname became Jones-Smith.
This is a 15-inch screen.
Our team won twenty-three games this season.

b) to substitute the word “to” in informal communication (it is preferable to use “to” in strictly formal communication):
We expect 5-7 percents of economic growth this year.

c) to continue a word on a new line if insufficient space is left on the current line (this function has somewhat come out of use with modern word processors allowing moving a word to a new line automatically):
Our company has improved its trans-
portation services recently.

2. Dashes are used:

a) to substitute such phrases as “it is”, “these are”, etc.:
There is only one thing you can do for the promotion to get a university degree.

b) to substitute parenthesis (or other punctuation marks such as commas) which introduce some additional information in the sentence:
This is a good deal — it was signed two weeks ago — and our partners are happy too.

c) to indicate an unfinished thought, particularly in books within direct speech:
“This is the key point of our –“ Ann’s presentation was interrupted by a phone call.

To recapitulate, this post has addressed the question of differences between a hyphen and a dash. Besides the fact that a hyphen is shorter than a dash, these two punctuation marks have also been shown to have different functions.

For the information in this post, I relied on Purdue OWL (the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University) (2016). You can check this resource by following the link in the reference section below.

Purdue OWL (2016). Retrieved February 21, 2016 from, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/engagement/3/7/98/


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