Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Consider the following overview of an individual's profile:

Name: John Smith
Age: 29
Marital status: Single
Spouse's Name: -

The dash given as "Spouse's Name" indicates that there is no name, because there is no spouse. What is the correct character to use for this dash?

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by Matt Эллен, JeffSahol, FumbleFingers, kiamlaluno, Gnawme Jan 3 '12 at 17:32

Questions on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange are expected to relate to English language and usage within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

1  
This is not a matter of english language or usage. –  slim Jan 3 '12 at 15:16
3  
A lot of forms will explicitly request that you write something such as n/a (not applicable) in these situations. But it's certainly not an ELU question anyway. –  FumbleFingers Jan 3 '12 at 15:54
2  
Wow. Okay, everybody, thanks for the slap in the face. I consider this to be part of English usage, as much as the correct character to hyphenate John's half-sister's last name is part of English usage. –  Peeja Jan 4 '12 at 1:03

1 Answer 1

up vote 3 down vote accepted

A dash or hyphen is a symbol commonly used in tables to represent absence of information. Depending on context, it is an abbreviation for "missing data", "not applicable", or even "exactly zero".

There is no single correct character (glyph) to use, because there is no prevalent usage or any kind of standard. The symbol used might be a hyphen, an en-dash, or an em-dash.

It is true that a two-em dash indicates where some letters have been left out of a word, and a three-em dash indicates where a word has been entirely left out. But you would be hard pressed to find an example of this in a table.

Therefore, the choice of symbol is left up to you. Simply choose the one which makes your table easiest to read.

share|improve this answer
    
Or you could do the sort of thing that lots of computer systems do: Require the user to enter a spouse name regardless of the marital status specified. :-) –  Jay Jan 3 '12 at 18:03

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.