Friday, 11 November 2016

Diacriticals: hyphen, n-dash and m-dash

Ah, diacriticals. They are the marks that we use to punctuate, accent and generally add flavour and emphasis to the printed word. 

And there are so many of the blasted things, with so many sub-groups.

For example, we all know what a hyphen is: right? 

But what about a minus? What about that long dash you might see bracketing sub-clauses in sentences? How do you get those? And what are they for?

Word will usually auto-magically create a long dash for you when you key space hyphen space (" - ") and then type another word... which is handy. This is an m-dash, and it is called an m-dash because it is as long as the 'M' is wide in that character set.

It is used at either end of a sub-clause within a sentence — or an aside — where where a full stop would be either too strong and break the flow, or where a comma would be too weak, and not show the comment was a 'statement by the way'.

If you want to create one without having to use the symbols dialogue box in any Windows programme, simply key Alt & 0151. Magic. 

This is an ASCII code, and there are codes for most characters.What we usually use as a hyphen on our keyboards is actually a ‘Hyphen-Minus’. This is ASCII code Alt & 45. This is really ONLY a minus, not a hyphen at all.

What we should use as a hyphen, where we want to show a range or to create a compound word, is an n-dash. The ASCII code is key Alt & 0150. It is slightly longer than a minus, and shorter than a m-dash.

So now you know :-)

  • Reference: Office for Mere Mortals (17 February 2015). OfMM#16.05 Em-dash, En-dash and a lot more. [Personal Communication]

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