Using hyphens and dashes

Learning focus

To use hyphens and dashes accurately to make your punctuation clear.

This lesson includes:

  • one video

  • three activities

Learn

Hyphens and dashes are important features of punctuation. Watch this video to help you understand the differences between them and how to use them correctly.

Understand hyphens and dashes.

Hyphens

Hyphens are very useful. They can be used to link two words together, so the word or phrase makes sense and doesn’t confuse the reader.

Look at how using a hyphen can completely change a sentence's meaning:

  • The superstar player decided to resign his contract.

This means the player is leaving the club.

  • The superstar player decided to re-sign his contract.

This means the player is staying at the club for longer.

Hyphens have other specific uses, for example in different types of words or particular phrases:

  • For numbers between 21 and 99, when written as words: for example, ‘thirty-six’ or ‘seventy-two’
  • To create compound adjectives: for example, 'part-time' or 'cold-blooded'
  • For informal phrases, such as ‘sing-song’ or ‘free-for-all’
  • To avoid awkward letter combinations, such as in ‘de-escalated’

Dashes

  • Dashes can be used to add extra information within a longer sentence, so are a way of showing parenthesis, similar to the way brackets and commas can.

Dashes shouldn’t be confused with hyphens as their job is very different!

For example: The superstar player – who is loved by many fans – decided to stay at the club.

  • We can also use a single dash to show parenthesis at the end of a sentence, or as an after-thought.

For example: Please call my mum – she’s at home!

Practise

You may need paper and a pen or pencil for some of these activities.

Activity 1

Can you complete this 'drag and drop' activity to test your knowledge of hyphens and dashes?

Activity 2

Find a picture of an animal that makes you smile or is funny.

Can you write three sentences about the picture that all include a hyphenated word?

For example:

  • Feeling hungry, the lightning-quick fox stared at the rabbit.

  • Terrified, the rabbit took a death-defying leap to safety!

Top tip!

Remember: hyphens link two words, so the word or phrase makes sense and doesn’t confuse the reader.

Activity 3

Using a single dash to show an after-thought can be used effectively for many different purposes.

For example, to:

  • Instruct: Pick up the pepper – the red one.

  • Persuade: It’s incredibly important to make changes – now!

  • Narrate: She wondered if he would show up – ever.

  • Explain: This will cause the wheels to turn – in any direction.

Write four of your own sentences using a single dash to show an after-thought.

Try to write one for each of the four purposes listed above.

Where next?

In this lesson you have learned about the differences between hyphens and dashes, and how to use them correctly.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you to understand more about punctuation:

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