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9 The Hyphen (-), The N Dash, and The M Dash ( – )

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9 The Hyphen (-), The N Dash, and The M Dash ( – )


These three punctuation marks are very similar and when and how they are used can be confusing. They are not the same.

The hyphen is the smallest in size(-), followed by the N dash (–), which is the size of an N, followed by an M dash, (—) which is the size of an M.

A hyphen doesn't have any spaces around it, and its main function is to connect words together, so it is used in compound adjectives,

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A hyphen is often used with numbers,

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He invited thirty-two people.

It is mainly used to avoid confusion.

The N dash has two main uses: it is used to express a range, and it is used with prefixes.

Children between the ages 9 – 12 are not allowed to enter. (range)

This is a pre – renaissance painting. (prefixes)

The M dash is most commonly used to give extra information within a sentence.

I spoke to her — I didn't need to — after I spoke to him.

It is also used as a kind of bullet point,

You need to bring the following items

— shoes

— towels

— soap

Notice both the N and M dashes have spaces around them, but hyphens don't.


The problem with the dash is that it discourages truly efficient writing, and it disrupts the flow of a sentence. They should be avoided when writing for Cambridge exams.

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