As a mathematician I often have to explain the notation in my writing. For example, I write:

"F denotes my favourite function, A - a beautiful set and K - an important kernel."

Should I use dashes as above, omit them, replace them by a colon? I can't find an answer anywhere...

  • 3
    Welcome to EL&U. Your question, however, is largely a matter of style; there is no single standard for right or wrong. Adhere to the discipline of your editor, publication, or organization, or in the absence of a house style, adopt a style manual appropriate to your audience and tastes and be consistent in its application.
    – choster
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 10:41
  • Colons don't work at all. Dashes are fine. However, you're not actually using dashes. You're using hyphens. And that is quite wrong indeed. Especially for a mathematician. You wouldn't use the symbols b, d, p, and q interchangeably just because they look kinda similar. Or write n instead of π. Likewise, you should know and understand the difference between a hyphen, an en dash, an em dash, and a minus. These are all different, and they all mean different things.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 14:47

1 Answer 1


I would drop the dashes entirely. I don't think any style guide would endorse them. As an editor, I would change the punctuation this way:

"F denotes my favourite function, A a beautiful set, and K an important kernel"


"F denotes my favourite function; A, a beautiful set; and K, an important kernel"

  • Thank you! Out of curiosity, is there any source you could point me to? Or is the answer based on your editorial experience?
    – Paula
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 16:37
  • Technically, it's the second sentence that's more "correct," in which the commas act as placeholders for denotes. The non-elided version of the sentence would be: F denotes my favourite function, A denotes a beautiful set, and K denotes an important kernel. That full version will always be correct. But shortening it makes it read better. While the first version doesn't use commas (as it should), it might still be a more stylistic choice for those who don't like the use of semicolons. You could also use A is a beautiful set, and K is an important kernel. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 17:27

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