How to Use the Dash, Hyphen, and Ellipsis
Using the correct punctuation is more than following the grammar rules—correct punctuation enables your audience to understand your ideas more clearly. Here’s how to correctly use the dash, hyphen, and ellipsis.
Basically, the dash (—) is used to show emphasis. Here’s how:
- Use a dash to show a sudden change of thought.
- Example: An archaeologist—of course I don’t mean you—is a person whose career lies in ruins.
- Use a dash before a summary of what is stated in the sentence.
- Example: Avoiding work, getting liposuction, becoming a finalist in the George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open—everything depends on that trust fund.
The hyphen (-), in contrast, is used to show a break in words.
- Use a hyphen to show a word break at the end of a line.
- Example: When you finish The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style, Sec-
ond Edition, your written work will be as sharp as your appearance.
- Use a hyphen in certain compound nouns.
- Example: great-grandmother
- Use hyphens in fractions and in compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
- Examples: one-half, sixty-six
The ellipsis (…), in contrast, indicates a break in continuity.
- Use an ellipsis to show that you have deleted words or sentences from a passage you are quoting.
- Example: Abraham Lincoln said: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth … a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
- Use an ellipsis to show a pause or interruption.
- Example: “No,” I said. “I … I need my space.”
Hyphens, dashes, and ellipses may seem tricky, but they don’t have to be. Just keep these rules in mind, and you’ll also know where they go! For more grammar information, check out our Quick Guides on How to Use an Apostrophe, How to Use the Comma, and The Rules of Capitalization. Happy writing!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style, Second Edition, by Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D.