How would I edit the following to be correct?

He would hardly sleep. Sometimes just two hours a night, maximum – four, and no more.

Should a hyphen be used? I do not want to add any words, just change punctuation so that it reads correctly.

  • The dash goes before "maximum," not after. HTH. – Kris Oct 23 '14 at 14:11
  • I think, before we can tell you the correct punctuation, you have to tell us what meaning you are trying to convey. – Alex W Oct 23 '14 at 14:42

I would write:

He would hardly sleep. Sometimes just two hours a night--maximum four--and no more.

What we are doing here is using a dash (not hyphen) to offset the parenthetical phrase "maximum four" from the rest of the sentence.

A parenthetical phrase is a separate word, phrase, clause, or idea that is inserted into a sentence to provide a clarifying or qualifying remark. In this case, the remark "maximum four" was used to qualify the "just two hours a night" thought.

  • It is actually called an em dash and it should use the actual em dash character (—) instead of two en dashes. – Alex W Oct 23 '14 at 14:52
  • There's nothing necessarily parenthetical here. – Kris Oct 23 '14 at 17:42
  • @Alex Please check your facts. – Kris Oct 23 '14 at 17:44
  • @Kris Which facts, specifically? – Alex W Oct 23 '14 at 18:20

He would hardly sleep, sometimes just two hours a night, a maximum of four and no more.

I agree that the dash is utterly pointless, also to me this is all one sentence.

A comma after sleep is enough of a break to make sense of the rest of the sentence.

No comma is needed between 'four and' because there is no ambiguity.

'maximum four' just doesn't sound or read right to me.



The mark between maximum and four is a dash not a hyphen.

Put very simply, hyphens are for joining words, or parts of words, together (no spaces between the hyphen and the words). Dashes are for separating words and clauses.

You don't need the dash at all, in fact it gives the wrong meaning to your sentence. A dash separates clauses in a similar way that brackets do. The part that is enclosed by the dashes or brackets - as in this part in bold - can be omitted without destroying the structure or meaning of the sentence.

So by inserting a dash between maximum and four you are separating the parts of your sentence. The first part says Sometimes just two hours a night, maximum which means Two hours is the maximum that he would sleep per night, and the rest of the sentence does not then make sense. What you really want to say is four is the maximum number of hours that he would sleep, sometimes only two.

So you could punctuate it thus:

He would hardly sleep. Sometimes just two hours a night, maximum four, and no more.

However, if you are unsure of your punctuation and really want get across the correct meaning then it's often better to rewrite the sentence.

  • Ah the cowardly downvoter strikes again. If you're so sure you're right, what's your reasoning? – Mynamite Oct 23 '14 at 14:27

I would rephrase it as "a maximum of four hours" or "at maximum four hours". I can't recall ever seeing "maximum" alone.

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