Hyphens and Dashes

Hello, Write Owls. Welcome to Day 13 of Grammar 110. Today we’re discussing hyphens and dashes.

Hyphens are used to connect compound words like single-thought adjectives. Single-thought adjectives are only hyphenated if they come before the word they are modifying. They aren’t hyphenated if they come after. A trick you can use to remember this is switch the word with an age. You say six-year-old girl when the adjective comes before and the girl is six years old when it comes after.


The well-known author is on tour.

The author on tour is well known.

Her father-in-law is visiting next week. (This is a compound noun rather than a single-thought adjective. The hyphens are always used regardless of the word’s location in the sentence.)

There are two types of dashes: en dashes and em dashes. En dashes are used to indicate ranges. Em dashes indicate abrupt changes in thought or interruptions. The words within the em dashes can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.


En dash: Read pages 1–4 for homework tonight.

En dash: He lived from 1900–1952.

Em dash: Tomorrow I am going to the park—if it stops raining—with my friends. (“Tomorrow I am going to the park with my friends” is a sentence by itself.)

Em dash: Our new couch—if it ever gets delivered—will go over there.

Em dash: “I am going to—”

Writers frequently overuse dashes. Only use them when absolutely necessary.

That’s all I have for you today. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments, and I will answer them either as a reply or in my Q&A tomorrow.

For practice, determine whether or a hyphen, en dash, or em dash goes in the blank. If you want me to check your answers, leave them in the comments.

1. Her cat__the big orange tabby__is a good mouser.

2. The well__loved toy is falling apart.

3. Did you read Chapters 4__7?

4. His great__grandmother is 107 years old.

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