En dashes can seem quite mysterious in their ways. Discover Auntie En's secrets and wield the dashing power of her arcane knowledge!
Em dashes are long, hyphens are short, and en dashes fall in between. All three have their style and grammar uses. Em dash usage falls mainly into the family of parentheses, brackets, and commas. Hyphens are a whole other story. Surprisingly, en dashes are the most manageable of the bunch.
A good mnemonic for en dashes: N & numerals & "to". Most uses for en dashes involve numerals, and often the en dash substitutes for the word "to".
1. En dashes appear between continuing pages in an index, footnotes, or other page references: pp. 124–27, pages 5–7.
2. En dashes appear in sports scores. When I read 9–4, I know it means the Yankees won nine runs to four runs; 12–7 means the Mets lost on runner hit by pitch in the 10th inning with the bases full followed by a grand slam. (whoops)
3. En dashes appear within dates."She'll be away August 9–16."
One common error comes from replacing the "to" in a "from. . . to" construction with an en dash, while leaving the "from".
If I am away from August 9 to August 16, that's fine; if I am away from August 10–16, the copy editors will get me ; )
The other use of the en dash is to connect a open compound proper noun with a suffix or a prefix. "It was a pre–Civil War document." "The East German–style interrogation continued." WATCH OUT that eager copyeditors do not start affixing en dashes to any open compound. Only open proper noun compounds get this treatment.
I recall a student who was so excited about the en dash-open compound use that he started affixing en dashes to coffee-table–size books, pre–secondary school education, and the like. He almost became an ex–Village Voice employee over it!
Auntie En is very specific and very clear. Refreshing!