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Thread: hyphens

  1. Wondering


    what does a hyphen in a sentnece signify ??

    • Join Date: Sep 2006
    • Posts: 150

    Re: hyphens

    Here's a page about using hyphens to join words together:

    Some people - like me, for instance - also use hyphens to break a sentence up into sections. If I was speaking, I would have paused where I've put the hyphens - so I'm using the hyphen to convey a sense of rhythm.

    I don't know if it's correct usage - or if it works - but I do it a lot.

  2. #3

    Re: hyphens

    Boothling, that's interesting. I do the same thing.

    I probably use it too liberally, but I usually just throw it in instinctively, and seem to get away with it.

    I use it often in place of a semicolon to divide two independant clauses when they just seem to sound better without a conjunction, or sometimes in place of therefore, or thereby. I personally think it "reads" better than a semicolon. I think many readers pause at a semicolon because it looks a little intimidating.

    "You bought the racing motorcycle - I bought the cruiser, but I think we're both going to be happy with our choices."

    The sentence just loses something if I'd joined it with and.
    There are much better examples, but that was first thing that came to mind.
    As you said, I'm never certain that it's legal, but I've never been called out for it!

  3. rewboss's Avatar

    • Join Date: Feb 2006
    • Posts: 1,552

    Re: hyphens

    Quote Originally Posted by boothling View Post
    Some people - like me, for instance - also use hyphens to break a sentence up into sections.
    You shouldn't be using hyphens in that way. If anything, you should be using what are called "em dashes", or simply "dashes", which are about twice as long as hyphens. For comparison:

    - is a hyphen
    is an en dash
    is an em dash

    En dashes are not often used, but em dashes are used in two different ways:

    1. To introduce some suspense. An em dash introduces a pause of the sort that precedes something unexpected, like the punchline to a joke. I cranked up the engine, booted up the microprocessor control unit, set the winding mechanism, engaged the flywheel and nothing happened.

    2. Instead of parentheses. Here are two sentences:
    Then (having slipped the book into his bag) he left the shop.
    Then having slipped the book into his bag he left the shop.
    The difference is very subtle. Parentheses convey a sense that that portion of text is not vitally important, while dashes imply that that portion is a little more important.

    You shouldn't use hyphens for this at all. Hyphens are used to join words together; either compound words that are not written as one single word ("tit-for-tat", "three-year-old girl"), or where a word has to be broken up at the end of a line:

    She thought it was fan-

    And you shouldn't overuse dashes either. Indiscriminately using them to "break up the sentence" can actually disturb the natural rhythm and chop your sentence up into short chunks, rather like someone out of breath having jogged five miles and trying to speak.

    Typing an em-dash is not the easiest thing in the world. In posts to message boards (like this) or in e-mails, you can certainly just type two hyhpens -- there's nothing to stop you. But to make a good impression, you need to know how to do it properly.

    Some word processing programs, like Microsoft Word, will automatically convert two hyphens ("--") into an em dash (""), unless you turn that feature off.

    In Windows, you can type an em dash this way:

    1. Ensure the "Num lock" light is on.
    2. Hold down the "Alt" key.
    3. Using the number pad on the right of the keyboard, type 0151.
    4. Release the "Alt" key.

    And if you're working in HTML, the entity for an em dash is —
    Last edited by rewboss; 29-Sep-2006 at 09:51.

    • Join Date: Sep 2006
    • Posts: 150

    Re: hyphens

    That's me told.

    I'd never heard of em dashes, so thanks for that. But I'll probably continue to use hyphens in their place, because there's no way I'm going through all that NumLock/Alt hassle just to make a line longer.

    I agree that they can be overused. I threw a lot into my previous post in order to illustrate the point I was making. And wsemajb made a much better job of that than I did.

  4. #6

    Re: hyphens

    Rewboss, thank you very much for that. I had a hunch that I'd seen this use of a dash legitimately. I wasn't aware of it's name. And I will try to take greater care in the future.

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