A pinch of this, a dash of that

A pinch of this, a dash of that

Dashes — beloved by copy editors, often loathed by, well, everyone else.

Hyphens (-) join words (good-looking, long-term). An em dash (—) is often used to add emphasis or set off thoughts mid-sentence, and can be an effective alternative to parentheses.

Enter the en dash (–), though, and you’ll hear a collective shudder. Longer than a hyphen and shorter than an em dash, the en dash is confusing. (An en dash is the length of a capital N, an em dash a capital M.)

It should be used in ranges of numbers, most often times, and dates:

You’re invited to our New Year’s Eve party! Join us for dinner, 8–9 p.m., followed by games and champagne.

This is by far the most common use of the en dash, but an en dash can also be used in place of two hyphens:

The Los Angeles–based designer will debut her collection in May.

It’s a no-no to hyphenate a proper name (Los Angeles), so the solution is to use an en dash after the word instead. The idea is that the slightly longer dash indicates that both Los and Angeles should be joined to based.

However, since AP doesn’t include en dashes in its stylebook, it’s acceptable to use a hyphen instead. Breathe a sigh of relief if your client strictly follows AP — but keep this information tucked away for those moments you write for a diehard Chicago Manual of Style follower, or someone who just disagrees with AP style.

Alison Dotson