I'm clear about using one hyphen while typing a sentence.

I met a 24-year-old girl. She was pretty.

But in many sentences I observe a longer dash (--). Probably they are two in number. Microsoft Word automatically does this at times.

My question:

In typing, is there any rule of putting more than one dash (-) other than describing two words as adjectives (as in above-mentioned case)?

Is it just a typing style or has to do anything with grammar?


This is between grammar and typography.

Hyphen and dash are at least three distinct characters.

  • Hyphens “-” are primarily used in compound words (“a 20-year-old co-ed”, “the above-mentioned phrase”) and when a word is broken at the end of a line (which explains why word breaking is called hyphenation). Hyphens are always very short, narrower than most letters. There is never a space between the hyphen and a word fragment that it joins (though there may be a space on one side in constructs like “pre- and post-conference activities”). The - character on keyboards is a hyphen (or minus when doing math or computation).
  • En-dashes “–” are mostly used to express a range (1932–1945). They are sometimes used as super-hyphens (“a Los Angeles–New York flight”). In these uses, there is no space before or after. They are so named because they are as wide as a lowercase “n” in most fonts.
  • Em-dashes “—” are sentence punctuation — often parenthetical — as shown in this sentence. They are at least as wide as an ”m”, occasionally even wider. There is no consensus as to whether to surround them by spaces.
  • Another similar character is the minus sign. It is typically about one en wide and thicker than a hyphen or dash, but this is dictated by the choice of mathematical font which can be chosen separately from the main text font.
  • There are many more somewhat similar characters and other uses of these characters; Wikipedia has a list as well as a lot of minutiae on these characters and their uses.

Two hyphens “--” are never used in typography; a dash is one stroke of the pen, not two. You might find them in text files to represent an en or em dash when the typist didn't have access to the proper character.

  • There's this question which bothers me. Is this correct English? In one context – yes, in other – not so sure about it. Wikipedia doesn't mention such usage. Recently I was able to find something similar here: One thing’s for sure – he doesn’t want to face the truth. But it says "where a comma, semicolon, or colon would be traditionally used." What would you use in these two sentences? Could you explain in your own words how to use dash this way? Or maybe you've got some good link? Is this supposed to be em dash, or en dash? – x-yuri Jan 20 '15 at 19:58
  • Word "Wikipedia" was supposed to be a link to this page. – x-yuri Jan 20 '15 at 19:59
  • @x-yuri That would be an em dash. That sentence could also be punctuated “One thing’s for sure: he doesn’t want to face the truth”, or even with a comma or semicolon. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jan 20 '15 at 20:08
  • And what if there were a second thing, which way would you write it? One thing’s for sure: he doesn’t want to face the truth, the other thing: he's totally drunk again.? Or One thing’s for sure: he doesn’t want to face the truth. The other thing: he's totally drunk again.? Or One thing’s for sure — he doesn’t want to face the truth, the other thing — he's totally drunk again.? Any other way? – x-yuri Jan 21 '15 at 9:12
  • @x-yuri If you start with “One thing” then it doesn't make sense to add another thing as part of the same idea. You can't say “the other thing” after saying there is no other thing. You could say “One thing's for sure: (…). Another thing: (…)”. A dash would work instead of the colons, but there's no reason to use dashes here, a colon is more natural. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jan 21 '15 at 15:51

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