A quick look at en dashes, em dashes, and hyphens

dashes

 

Hey, welcome back for another installation in my writing advice articles. 😎

As an amateur writer, I often wondered how dashes and hyphens functioned. At first, I assumed they joined words together. It wasn’t until I delved into the matter that I realized there are multiple variants of these critters, each with a specialized function in writing. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Hyphens

The function of hyphens is to connect two or more words that are related, usually pairs that work as one word; e.g., two-headed, half-human, semi-conscious, long-term, up-to-date, free-for-all.

The hyphen serves as the glue that welds the pairing vocabulary, forming a compound phrase. This works for nouns, verbs, and adjectives. You can also use hyphens to punctuate character stuttering.

Never use a hyphen in place of an en dash or em dash. We’ll discuss that more below. Be on the lookout for closed or open compounds, as these do not need a hyphen.

Hyphen Examples

Closed: typewriter, skyscraper, notebook, fireman.

Open: lounge chair, living room, real estate.

Quite often a compound modifier is hyphenated if it comes before a noun it modifies, but not after.  The reason is for added clarity on what’s being modified. For example:

Incorrect: Let’s head to that run down church.

Correct: Let’s head to that run-down church.

Other examples for hyphen usage are:

  • With the vocabulary low/highlow-income, high-interest.
  • With fractions: one-third, one-half, one-tenth.
  • With prefixes ex, self, all: ex-wife, self-employed, all-powerful.
  • With numbers: second-century, third-floor, thirty-minute, ninety-four, fifty-one, one hundred and fifty-five.

Mastering hyphens can be tricky. I encourage my readers to check out that Grammarly article I linked above for more examples on when to use this symbol.

En dash

An en dash(–) is longer than a hyphen(-), but shorter than an em dash(—). While simpler than hyphens, en dashes find less use in modern writing.

The function of this critter is to establish a range, whether by numbers, distance, or parties of a spectrum such as in a versus debate or business partnership.

En Dash Examples

  • Number range: 1050 hours, 30006000 days, 15–30 people.
  • Distance range: ChicagoNew York flight, EarthMoon voyage.
  • Opposing parties: ClintonGore debate, RightLeft convention.
  • Partnership: RalphHeath Company, JonesMary Inc.

Em dash

Here’s where the fun starts. An em dash(—) is a versatile symbol. This tool separates phrases and clauses in a sentence. They are similar to commas, parenthesis, and semicolons.

Em dashes symbolize a pause in a thoughtlike I did here—, perhaps informally, while parenthesis is more formal. You could take a regular sentence and insert a pair of em dashes somewhere betwixt as in the sentence above.

Otherwise, for a single break, use only one em dash—to avoid confusion of course. Em dashes can also substitute for colonsor used in a list.

Em Dash Examples

  • An em dash is a break in written thoughtuseful for fixing incomplete sentences.
  • Two em dashes are an insertion for additional information that could be—depending on the writer’s situationexcluded.
  • An em dash can be substituted for a comma, colon, semicolon, parenthesis, bullet point, and much more.

Again, I advise my readers to check out the hyperlinked articles above for more examples. Em dashesat firstseem confusing, but once mastered, the versatility of this tool cannot be underestimated.

Personally, I enjoy using it a lot more than I did a few years ago. That said, using more than two em dashesfor the sake of clarityin a sentence is not recommended. Some people represent em dashes with spaces, others with three hyphens joined. Whatever method you use, be sure to let the reader know.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this article helped with whatever creative projects you harbor. Love and gratitude. 😀


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Editing and revising: concision, precision, and other goodies

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Yay for Snoopy—I mean, hey, welcome back. It’s been a while, but I’ve got another post to share. 😎

This article is a revisit on improving conciseness in prose, or rather, an updated variant of it (I mentioned it briefly in one of my earlier posts).

Concision work typically comes after the initial draft during the editing passes, so don’t worry about it too much when you draft the story.

What is Concision in Prose?

Definition

Conciseness and precision are essential to good prose. Minimizing words used, trading weak vocabulary for a single stronger word, eliminating redundancy; these are but a few of the processes involved with concision.

Why Bother with Concision?

Not only will a manuscript read smoother and faster (your readers will thank you), entire pages may animate in unimaginable ways.

Fortunately, there are a handful of nifty techniques to help. Although the result may not be crispy clean, you can bet a lot of unnecessary and nasty vocabulary are gone.

“A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” ~The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White

That said, we’re all human beings, so perfection is only an ambition that drives our efforts (and I doubt this article is optimized). Anyway, let’s cover some of those concision techniques.

Techniques

Wordiness

When editing your work, look for ways to shorten a phrase or set of vocabulary. Sometimes you can convert a few words into a single one. Examples of this include, but are not limited to:

  • a number of → many/some
  • at the present time → now/at present
  • despite the fact that → although
  • on a daily basis → daily
  • he was going → he went (passive voice correction)

Notice how a single word or two can substitute for a whole phrase. Passive Voice (which I covered here) always violates the concision of prose, but there are exceptions for this. I encourage you to examine the hyperlink for more information.

Invisible words

Certain words appear ‘invisible’ to the reader’s eye. Words such as ‘said,’ ‘the,’ or ‘and’ are fillers that won’t particularly grab the reader’s attention. Their purpose is to bridge the gap between words that do matter.

Regardless, if used in excess, they can cause friction in the rhythm of prose. Mix up the frequency or remove them entirely.

These tools can hold significance in dialogue when using tags to denote the speaker. Sometimes you can get away with no labels at all for ideal concision.

Descriptors and Pacing

While there are invisible words and prose symbols that serve some purpose, sometimes a writer can use a stronger one to enhance a sentence.

You can trim down excess adverbs and adjectives into shorter, stronger versions. Often this involves a little ingenuity to mold the phrases to the tense of your written piece. Consider these scenarios:

He ran to the store quickly. → He sprinted to the store.

Marle cried loudly. → Marle bawled.

The Kraken roared ferociously. → The Kraken screeched.

He was very tired. → He was exhausted.

The use of a stronger descriptor can better highlight the action or details. Sometimes a writer will ignore this rule to highlight a particular phrase or slow the story’s tempo. It’s up to you to decide how and when to manipulate pace for the reader’s benefit.

Long paragraphs slow the pace of writing and may come off as daunting to a reader (like this one—eep!). While seldom large sections serve a function, overuse forces slower prose tempo and gives writing an unfavorable taste. Action paragraphs need to be quick and to the point. Short sentences add to the jarring sensation of battle, increasing the depth of the reader’s experience.

Descriptive paragraphs are longer, slower, and more robust, similar to how human perception slows when we study or observe. Not surprisingly, scientific papers are often sluggish and detailed.

Redundant words

With concision and precision, a writer can delete an entire word without substitution, thereby strengthening a sentence or phrase. Some words are unnecessary, and you’re better off excluding them. Here are a few to watch out for:

Irregardless, obviously, very, almost, just, essentially, basically, totally, seriously, honestly, and actually.

Naturally, in dialogue, there are exceptions. Reread a sentence a few times and feel out the flavor of the words. Take your time with it and savor every morsel. Writers sometimes use these words in clever ways to better demonstrate a character’s speech habits.

Contractions in dialogue are another easy way to sharpen your manuscript, so don’t feel afraid to use them.

From my experience, contractions rarely appear in narration for a more formal tone. Some characters may purposely speak without contractions for that flair of formality. Again, it’s up to the writer to decide how to present it.

Conclusion

Writing with concision is essential to good prose. It allows for a smoother and more readable script. There are some techniques to help with the process, such as reducing redundant or wordy vocabulary, shortening paragraphs, and using stronger verbs.

Thank you for reading, and I hope this article helped with whatever creative projects you harbor. Love and gratitude. 😀


Want to stay in touch with the blog’s updates and other nifty tidbits? Hit that follow button below. Thanks!

Here’s a bonus: www.wordcounter.net. This website is a nifty piece of software you can use to sharpen your prose. Have fun!