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I had a discussion with some people today on hyphen and dashes. They had concluded that hyphen, which is used to link two connecting words (book-bag) is the longer line – instead of the shorter line -, and that the shorter line is for the dash, which is used to continue an argument/show something within a passage.

Is this true? Is there really a difference between the line length in the hyphen and dash symbols? I had always thought that they were of the same length.

Supposedly:

  • Hyphen : –
  • Dash.... : -

(Dots used to space out to show the difference in length.)

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There are multiple hyphens and multiple dashes, all with different meanings, too. :) –  Roger Pate Oct 13 '10 at 17:25
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3 Answers

It is the other way around. See here:

The hyphen ( ‐ ) is a punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. It should not be confused with dashes ( –, —, ― ), which are longer and have different uses, and with the minus sign ( − ) which is also longer.

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No, a hyphen is shortest, then comes the minus sign, then the n-dash, then the m-dash, which is the longest (in this list).

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Hyphen and dash are at least three distinct characters, and the hyphen is the shortest.

  • Hyphens “-” are primarily used in compound words (a 20-year-old co-ed) and when a word is broken at the end of a line (which explains why word breaking is called hyphenation). Hyphens are always very short, narrower than most letters. There is never a space between the hyphen and a word fragment that it joins (though there may be a space on one side in constructs like “pre- and post-conference activities”).
  • En-dashes “–” are mostly used to express a range (1932–1945). They are sometimes used as super-hyphens (a Los Angeles–New York flight). In these uses, there is no space before or after. They are so named because they are as wide as a lowercase “n” in most fonts.
  • Em-dashes “—” are sentence punctuation — often parenthetical — as shown in this sentence. They are at least as wide as an ”m”, occasionally even wider. There is no consensus as to whether to surround them by spaces.
  • Another similar character is the minus sign. It is typically about one en wide and thicker than a hyphen or dash, but this is dictated by the choice of mathematical font which can be chosen separately from the main text font.
  • There are many more somewhat similar characters and other uses of these characters; Wikipedia has a list as well as a lot of minutiae on these characters and their uses.
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