An example of the way I tend to use the hyphen would be:

Some people are genetically predisposed to build muscle - I am not one of them.

I usually do this more often when I am in a hurry. Still, I use it this way regularly. The comma is not a candidate otherwise I would just make the trailing phrase into another sentence. An ellipsis would seem to be the correct choice to indicate the pause, but I want it to seem as if I interrupted myself out of my own existential angst over it (in that example).

  • That's your style. Nothing wrong with expressing your own writing style - unless your goal is to be more formal.
    – Bread
    Commented May 5, 2018 at 19:59
  • The hyphen is never used in this way. Various dashes are. Commented May 5, 2018 at 22:31

2 Answers 2


Speaking very technically, to a typesetter that’s not a hyphen — it’s a dash. One possible easy-to-remember way to keep them straight is

“Hyphens join. Dashes separate.”

The full stop (period), the exclamation point, and the question mark are used to end a sentence (independent clause) without committing to anything following them. In contrast, the semicolon, occasionally the ellipsis or the colon, and the dash (can) all connect one logical sentence to another in some fashion.

These sentence-joiners (meaning : or ; or or or ) always mean something a bit different than using sentence-terminators (meaning . or ? or !) and just going on to have a new sentence in the regular way. Indeed using anything other than a period to end a sentence with means something special, the joiners just as much as the other terminators.

Of the dash, the OED says:

A horizontal stroke of varying length (-, —, ——) used in writing or printing to mark a pause or break in a sentence, a parenthetic clause, an omission of words or letters or of the intermediate terms of a series, to separate distinct portions of matter, or for other purposes; sometimes implying the use of strong language; hence as a mild substitute for devil.

Using abnormal punctuation at a high frequency can make your text look informal or non-standard. The careful writer chooses their punctuation with care. These all have their places. The Wikipedia article I initially linked to above has some suggested guidelines that may help you.


I think it is fine depending on what your purpose is in writing. I am a MA English student and I use two dashes, known as the ‘em’ dash, for academic papers to set off a word or phrase.

I like scrambled eggs—sometimes.

That is kind of a lame example, but in that example, perhaps it shows emphasis. It can be used in place of a Colon, semicolon, or comma depending on the purpose. In my example above instead of a comma. In your example, if I was writing an academic paper it would be:

Some people are genetically predisposed to build muscle—I am not one of them.

There in place of a semicolon or a conjunction, most likely.


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