A Dash of Help

I recently wrapped up my five month long partnership in our local SCBWI Author Mentorship program. I was matched with Anna-Maria Crum and we worked so efficiently together I was able to get two manuscripts into superb shape for submitting.

Not only did my characters and plot get a needed boost, but I also learned (or relearned?) some important grammar and editing skills. Over the next few months I’ll share a few tips to help make your final product a professional masterpiece.

Today is the often misunderstood HYPHEN (-), EN-DASH(–) and EM-Dash(—). I had become lazy in how they are used and often in my drafting chose whatever one came to mind first. Here’s the low down on how to use these correctly:


  1. When to use
    1. Connecting compound words (right-of-way)
    2. Telephone numbers or grouped numbers (555-555-5555)
    3. Syllable breaks within words at the end of the line
  2. How to make one
    1. Use the minus sign on the keyboard


  1. When to use
    1. To join words when describing a range (June–August, 2017)
    2. To join numbers in a range (8–13 years old; 1968–2010)
  2. How to make one (two options)
    1. MAC & Windows: Type a word followed by a space, then type the hyphen, followed by another space and the second word. Tap enter, return or space bar.
    2. MAC: option-minus sign; Windows: control-minus sign

Em-Dash (—)

  1. When to use
    1. Set off a unique idea from the main sentence (This manuscript—minus a few flaws—is close to perfection.
    2. Separate an inserted thought (Writing is a journey—often not on the same road.
  2. How to make one (two options)
    1. MAC & Windows: Type a word followed by two hyphens, then type the second word and tap  enter, return, or space bar.
    2. MAC: shift-option-minus sign; Windows: alt-control-minus sign

No test. You are dismissed for the weekend!

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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7 Responses to A Dash of Help

  1. Looking forward to your words of wisdom 👍🏻

  2. stevenbfrank says:

    As a grammar geek who loves punctuation marks–I gave them a whole chapter in The Pen Commandments–I love Greg’s latest post, both for its subject matter and its clarity. I’m looking forward to more.

  3. I had either forgotten some of these or never knew them. Thanks, Greg! I’m looking forward to more of your posts about what you learned. I am applying for the Nevada SCBWI mentorship program this year. Wish me luck!

  4. I’m impressed. Will be interested in learning more about your wonderful mentoring opportunity! What a boost for your writing!

  5. This was helpful! I think I often use the en dash and the em dash interchangeably. Now I’ll be more careful. Your mentoring experience sounds rewarding. One of my beta readers in my writing group has a mentor and feels she is benefitting from the interaction..

  6. Pingback: Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package — Review and Giveaway – Rosi Hollinbeck

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