Hyphens carry a deep dark secret you were never taught.
Brain: Ahem. You mean you were never taught.
Yes, I was never taught when NOT to use hyphens. I only learned the secret while tutoring my sixth-grade cousin.
As you already know, you use hyphens for situations like this:
The blue-black sky lit up with the dawn.
He’ll be in Alaska with twenty-one others.
She works in a state-of-the-art facility.
But, as someone who used a fair amount of hyphens, I was never taught that you DON’T use hyphens in the following situations:
The doctor – an old friend of my mom’s – came for dinner.
Nope. No hyphens here.
Okay, so the fact is, there is a different form of punctuation called an em dash. And if you already know this, awesome. But if you’re like me, and you didn’t, read on!
In a sentence like this, you’d use an em dash, not a hyphen:
The doctor—an old friend of my mom’s—came for dinner.
This is a hyphen: –
This is an em dash: —
I was not aware of that for a very long time (and I know others who weren’t, either), and it definitely resulted in some embarrassing formatting.
We won’t talk about that.
Anyway, how do you get an em dash, since most keyboards don’t have them?
On Windows, just use alt 0151. Tedious? Maybe. I just had to go through 249 pages of my book, replacing incorrectly used hyphens with em dashes.
But, now you know!
In short: Hyphens are used to join words. Em dashes are used to separate clauses.
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2 thoughts on “What They Never Taught You About Hyphens”
Ahaha! So that’s how you use them!! (I played it safe and used commas to separate clauses lol.) Okay, this makes way more sense. Thanks, Hannah! (by the way, did you know that it was National Grammar Day this weekend?)
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