119 Hyphens (English)

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Understanding Hyphens

A hyphen is used to connect either two syllables of two different words or a syllable (or group of syllables) to a word. The hyphen is intended for the newly-created term to be read as a single word, such as the noun anti-hero, the adjective near-sighted, or the recently coined term e-mail.
Typically, newly coined compound terms can drop the hyphen after some time, such as email from e-mail, which was originally the spelling, or misled, which was once mis-led. However, until two words are officially inducted as a new single compound word, the use of the hyphen can replace the use of square quotes of a term, which is customary to reflect the closer relationship those two (or more) words have to each other than the other words in the sentence, such as when quoting a uncommon use of a word or phrase.
When an expression has exhausted the single quote treatment ad nauseam, or when two words aren't normally connected aside from one modifying the other but common standards fail to dictate a more intimate relationship between the two words that should be expressed to avoid ambiguity or misinterpretation, then connecting the two words with a hyphen is the next logic step. Eventually, significant popularity of a hyphenated term leads to the two words united into a single compound word, which the most significant example of which would be the short period of time in which electronic mail transformed to e-mail and then soon after email. Typically, the process of joining two words to eventually be accepted as a new compound word happens over a period of multiple decades or even centuries.

Understanding En dashes

An en dash is used to introduce definitions, introduce lists, between dates, between numbers, and to signify a range of some group of object, such as 1 – 10. An en dash differs from a hyphen as it is slightly longer and treated with spaces on either side, whereas a hyphen is closed spacing.

Understanding Em dashes

An em dash is the length of two en dashes—it signals a break in thought or focus to another, different topic loosely related to the sentence in which it is placed. An em dash can separate any combination of independent and dependent clauses, because it signals a break from the current topic to introduce a tangent or side note.

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