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En Dash of Insanity (ft. Minuses)

In my other post, we talked about hyphens. Noticeably, I left out other important dash marks! How could I?

In this post, we’ll dive into the en dash and the minus sign.

In order we have: the en dash and the minus

– −

En Dash (–)

The humble little en dash is one of the simplest punctuation marks to use. The internet gives you a bunch of “different” examples, but they’re all the same example with a different set of words around them.

An en dash is used to show range. That’s pretty simply, right? Think of an en dash as meaning the word “to” in spoken context.

Spoken: He lived from 1955 to 2020.

Written: He lived form 1955–2020.

Spoken: New York to London is a long flight.

Written: New York–London is a long flight.

Spoken: The home team won the game 3 to 2!

Written: The home team won the game 3–2!

There is a second usage for an en dash though, and it’s likely one that most writers don’t use often. This first example is to hyphenate a proper adjective, that is one where the adjective has a space in it already.

Example 1: My great-grandfather has tons of World War I–era clothing.

Here, the adjective is Word War I and we’re tagging “era” onto the end with an en dash. This “proper” adjective is also called an open compound adjective. These are the ones you would use an en dash for when creating a new adjective like we have in the example above.

Okay, admittedly this last one is pretty dumb. The en dash is also used to hyphenate adjectives that already have hyphens in them.

Example 2: It was an all-too-common–pitch-black night.

There you have it. Now you know how to use en dashes. Hopefully. Don’t use this knowledge for evil. En dashes are super easy to use since their usage is very limited and there’s not much guesswork included. It’s pretty cut and dry where you would use this particular dash.

Minus Signs (−)

The minus sign is one of the most simple-to-use signs out there. As a mathematical sign, it should appear very rarely in your prose, but it’s still important to draw this distinction on what it is and does aside from the other dashes.

The minus sign is used to show the operation of subtraction or to indicate that a number is of a negative value, like so:

Example 1: −21°C

Example 2: 3+1−4=0

See? Pretty simple stuff right there. When placed in front of temperatures (and sometimes numbers), it could also be read as “negative” instead of “minus.”


So, what do you think?

Comment your thoughts!

Follow me on Twitter: @coda_cola_

Have a good wander, friend.

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