I am reading a non-fiction book and came across a sentence where hyphens are used in couple of places. If I replace those hyphens with comma, then I guess it means the same thing.


It doesn't matter what your reason is for reading something - whether it is because someone recommended it or simply because you want to - as long as you have reason.

I want to know why hyphens are used here?

I have seen many places where authors used to give examples of something that they said prior to the hyphen.

Please correct my understanding about this.

  • 4
    These are not hyphens. They are em dashes. Ideally, we use the — character. If you do not know how to produce it, type two hyphen characters, like this -- . We always typed two hyphens when we used typewriters. Jul 24, 2022 at 10:12
  • If you had searched for that same question online you would have gotten an answer immediately.
    – Joachim
    Jul 24, 2022 at 10:25
  • Thanks @JeffreyCarney, i didn't know that it was two hyphens. Now it will easy to study on em dashes. Jul 24, 2022 at 10:28

1 Answer 1


Those aren't hyphens, they are dashes. A hyphen joins two or more words together while a dash separates words into 'parenthetical statements' or introduces a comment. A parenthetical dash can usually be replaced by a comma.

A parenthetical statement is one that adds information, but which can be removed (along with the dashes) without destroying the grammar of the sentence.

Dashes and hyphens are sometimes confused because they look similar, but they are used differently. Hyphens are not separated by spaces, while a dash usually has a space on either side.


My coat is worn-out.
My mother is a hard-to-please sort of person.
'Treasure Island' is a well-liked story.

Parenthetical dashes:

My mother — who is Belgian — speaks three languages.
My trip to China — which lasted for three months — was expensive, but very interesting.

Dashes before a comment:

You might think my mother drinks too much — she does.
The Russians want peace — or so they say.

The modern convention is for a dash to have a space before and after, but you may find older material where there is no space (the dash is solid next to whatever precedes and follows it).

It is good style to use a dash which is longer than a hyphen, and there are two common sizes, the 'em' and 'en' dashes.

Em dash — can function like a comma, a colon, or parenthesis.

En dash – most often used between numbers, dates, or other notations to signify '(up) to and including'. Mostly encountered in typeset material. (A hyphen does its job in other text.)

Hyphen -

Hyphens and dashes

  • 1
    +1 ... and your use of a hyphen in "My coat is worn-out" is contentious, as many, including myself, consider a hyphen there incorrect, and would leave a space instead. If you use "worn-out" as an attributive adjective, like "This worn-out coat is mine" then there's no contention, and I believe your intent still comes through clearly. (To be clear, I'm not confident that it's a mistake, just that it will distract from the real issue, which is what a hyphen is)
    – gotube
    Jul 25, 2022 at 3:46

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