Welcome to the chapter on similar punctuation. This chapter outlines the technical symbols and notation defining English grammar. For example, did you know there are different types of lines and dashes that have specific uses? Authors who correctly apply delicate punctuation markers in English writing, such as en dashes, grab the attention of the reader because they demonstrate a strong command of how to arrange ideas in clear and efficient ways on the page. Conversely, authors who apply these markers sloppily can quickly lose the interest or confidence of the reader. Personally, if I see a hyphen used where a minus ought to be, or a colon in place of a comma, I lose trust in that author’s work and question the validity of their work.

In this chapter, we’ll dive into the topic of lines and dashes, including hyphens (-), the minus sign (−), en dashes (–), and em dashes (—), including the 3-em dash (———). We’ll also cover the differences between colons (:) and semi-colons (;). Finally, we’ll explore the often-misused exclamation mark (!).

This chapter uses the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) as a reference text, specifically Chapter 6 on punctuation: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/717/01/. The CMOS is a 110-year-old grammar and style reference text published by the University of Chicago Press. Currently, there are 16 editions and it is a go-to grammar and document preparation guide for academics and writers.

Before we get into examples, exercises, and how to use the different types of dash symbols, let’s take a closer look at what they look like and how to type them.

This table highlights the different lengths among dash symbols as well as the subtle differences between serif and sans serif fonts, which affects the thickness and length of the dashes.

Dash symbolSerif (e.g. Times New Roman)Sans serif (e.g. Calibri)
Minus sign
En dash
Em dash
The 3-em dash——————

As you can see, each dash symbol differs in length. This helps each one emphasize its own grammatical rule.

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