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How to properly use dashes in text


Advice

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Designer

4 people marked this as FAQ candidate. 98 people marked this as a favorite.

From my Freelancer Advice and Punishment document:

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DASHES
There are three kinds of dashes commonly used in RPG books. I’m gonna line them up so you can tell them apart.
- I’m a hyphen. I’m little!
– I’m an en-dash. I’m medium!
— I’m an em-dash! I’m huge!
Learn the difference, learn which is appropriate in what context, and it’ll make your developer’s and editor’s lives easier.

Hyphen
The - character on your keyboard is a hyphen. It is the shortest kind of dash. We use a hyphen for:
• Fractions, like 1-1/2
• Separating ordinals, like 1st-level wizard.
• Separating measurements, like 10-foot-cube or 5-foot-square.
• Hyphenated words and phrases such as dog-faced.

En-Dash
The next larger dash is an en-dash, so named because it’s the same width as the letter “n” in whatever font you’re using.
On a Mac, you make an en-dash with option-hyphen. On a PC, you make an en-dash by holding down ALT and (on the number pad) typing 0150
If you can’t remember how to make an en-dash with the keyboard, you can just copy-paste an en-dash from this document and paste it into wherever you need it.
We an en-dash for:
• A minus sign, like a penalty, when doing a calculation, or a date.
Example: The spell gives the target a –4 penalty on saving throws.
Example: At 4th level and higher, a ranger’s caster level is equal to his ranger level – 3.
Example: King Snotflanks died in –423 AR.
• Separating a range of numbers, like a dice rolling table or a critical threat range.
Example:
1–20 1d6 goblins
21–100 1d6 tarrasques

Example: Melee longsword +5 (1d8, 19–20)

Note: In theory, you’d use an en-dash for a variable number, such as “the alchemist has 1–4 1st-level potions available,” but obviously that’s supposed to be a random number, you really should just write 1d4 instead of 1–4. This also prevents 1st edition weirdness where you’d expect the reader to know that 2–7 is 1d6+1.

Em-Dash
The biggest dash is an em-dash, so named because it’s the same width as the letter “m” in whatever font you’re using.
On a Mac, you make an em-dash with option-shift-hyphen. On a PC, you make an en-dash by holding down ALT and (on the number pad) typing 0151
If you can’t remember how to make an em-dash with the keyboard, you can just copy-paste an em-dash from this document and paste it into wherever you need it.
We an em-dash for:
• An interruption in a sentence—like this one—where you jump to a side topic and then back to the main topic.
• A blank entry in a table or stat block, such as the nonexistent weight entry for the unarmed strike listing on Core Rulebook page 142.
• A separator for spells in a stat block, spell-like abilities in a stat block, poisons, and so on. Note that the stat block spreadsheet generally takes care of these for you.
Example: At will—charm person, teleport (self plus 50 lbs. of objects only)
Example: 1st—charm person, true strike
Example: Poison (Ex) Sting—injury; save Fort DC blah blah blah.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Cool document. I didn't know about the mid-sized dash.

Support your local grammar police.

Goblinworks Game Designer

Heehee, Thanks Sean! ;)

Osirion

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Cool. What's next, the Golarion Manual of Style? ;)

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Dotting.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
TriOmegaZero wrote:
Dotting.

You can list it too! It doesn't hurt.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

Thanks Cheapy—I didn't realize what the LIST link did! And I got to use an em-dash, so thanks Sean!!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

No prob! Lists are great.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I've always disliked the use of the em dash for parenthetical statements – like this one – much preferring an en dash with a space to either side.

Andoran

Sean needs the title "Punctuation Tyrant."

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm really more interested in the background for King Snotflanks.

Awesome post, by the way!


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Where can we find this Freelancer Advice and Punishment document?

I would like to read it.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
danielc wrote:

Where can we find this Freelancer Advice and Punishment document?

I would like to read it.

Become a freelancer for Paizo, and you too shall behold this dread tome.

Sczarni

Why is this in the advice section? Did someone ask for english grammar advice and I missed it?

Sean K Reynolds wrote:
We use an em-dash for:

Fixed for grammatical purposes. Does this mean I win the grammar war?

Also, since when does grammar matter on the interwebs?


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
ossian666 wrote:
Why is this in the advice section? Did someone ask for english grammar advice and I missed it?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they did! :)

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

DOH! I got ninja'd in posting a link about myself!

Well played, Joana. Well played.

Sczarni

He is a better man than I. I can't believe this isn't part of high school curriculum. I feel our schools are failing our children (by our I mean your because I have no children).


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Great Stuff

I'm pretty guilty of just letting MS Word handle it automatically & not knowing if it was correct. :P

Designer

Callum wrote:
I've always disliked the use of the em dash for parenthetical statements – like this one – much preferring an en dash with a space to either side.

Well, your preference isn't the standard for most publishers...


Hm. I had some of that right on my statblocks, and some wrong.

Crit range 19–20 it is!

Hm, either your suggested mac shortcuts don't work, or the forum font doesn't distinguish between - and –.

Actually, there is a teensy difference. I never knew!

Edit: It's much more pronounced in the final submission than in the edit window.


Although, I've always wondered why the distinction between en-dash and em-dash. Sean, do you have any historical reasoning for the need to have the two?

Edit:

Evil Lincoln...I think this comic will explain why there's not as much pronounced difference in the edit window... :)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Card Game, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Evil Lincoln wrote:
Edit: It's much more pronounced in the final submission than in the edit window.

Different fonts. The edit window uses what looks like a version of Courier New, which is a fixed-width font (all characters occupy the same width on the screen). The displayed font looks closer to Ariel (although I don't think it is), which is a variable-width font. The variable-width font is going to accentuate the differences between the different dashes while a fixed-width font is going to make them all look the same.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Pendin Fust wrote:

Although, I've always wondered why the distinction between en-dash and em-dash. Sean, do you have any historical reasoning for the need to have the two?

Edit:

Evil Lincoln...I think this comic will explain why there's not as much pronounced difference in the edit window... :)

I've looked at it, and I'm not seeing the joke...


Thanks for posting this Sean.


HangarFlying wrote:
Pendin Fust wrote:

Although, I've always wondered why the distinction between en-dash and em-dash. Sean, do you have any historical reasoning for the need to have the two?

Edit:

Evil Lincoln...I think this comic will explain why there's not as much pronounced difference in the edit window... :)

I've looked at it, and I'm not seeing the joke...

The kerning (spacing between the letter forms to be visually pleasing) is the cause for Evil Lincoln's noticing that the edit window doesn't distinguish between the en- and em-dashes very well.


Uh, since when the minus sign is not made with minus key on numeric keyboard like it was when I learned to write on keyboard (late eighties) and instead with some newfangled sign?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Rite Publishing wrote:
Thanks for posting this Sean.

Darn! I was hoping you didn't see this. Foiled again.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32, 2012 Top 4

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Jeez, I hope this post wasn't triggered by the Scenario turnover I sent in, today.

Taldor

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Tales Subscriber

There is a large quantity of writing, both online and published in print, which throws dashes around as a substitute for correct punctuation. It is pleasing to see some accurate use of dashes being outlined in a public forum.


Paizo Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber

Thanks, for posting this, Sean. I knew about most of this, the one thing that was new to me was the use of the en-dash for the crit range. I always love to learn more about languages, and their writing styles. Too bad your document isn't generally available, I'm sure it makes for an interesting read. :)

Shadow Lodge

3 people marked this as a favorite.

This seems insanely nit picky. Wouldn't it be easier just to stuff the 5 people that would actually notice the difference if we went to a 1 dash standard into a garbage can face first and be done with it?


Or at least expect publishers to force the companies that write text processors to support them easily instead of requiring complex tricks to use them?

Contributor

Drejk wrote:
Or at least expect publishers to force the companies that write text processors to support them easily instead of requiring complex tricks to use them?

The Windows versions of both Word and WordPerfect automatically convert two hyphens placed together into an em-dash, so it's not that tricky.

Andoran

Drejk wrote:
Uh, since when the minus sign is not made with minus key on numeric keyboard like it was when I learned to write on keyboard (late eighties) and instead with some newfangled sign?

A hyphen (-), which uses what you call the minus key, and a subtraction symbol (–) are actually different typographically. The appearance difference is literally very small, but there IS a difference. And, ultimately they're not the same thing.

Most importantly, if the publisher you're working with/for wants the distinction, you make the distinction.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Pendin Fust wrote:
HangarFlying wrote:
Pendin Fust wrote:

Although, I've always wondered why the distinction between en-dash and em-dash. Sean, do you have any historical reasoning for the need to have the two?

Edit:

Evil Lincoln...I think this comic will explain why there's not as much pronounced difference in the edit window... :)

I've looked at it, and I'm not seeing the joke...
The kerning (spacing between the letter forms to be visually pleasing) is the cause for Evil Lincoln's noticing that the edit window doesn't distinguish between the en- and em-dashes very well.

Is it the spacing after the Cs in the sign that is causing the character angst?


HangarFlying wrote:


Is it the spacing after the Cs in the sign that is causing the character angst?

Yep that's exactly it. Saying that the one figure taught the other to recognize bad kerning, and now it is causing angst every time it's seen (a lot of places).


2 people marked this as a favorite.

It's nice to know why you guys do this sort of thing the way you do, but I'm telling you from a blind guy's perspective that it's very annoying in certain circumstances. For instance the En-Dash that is used before a number to indicate a penalty is quite tiresome. The reason for this is because the software I use to read my PDFs says it exactly the way you format it. So instead of saying minus4 it says En-Dash 4. I've actually copied whole documents into MS Word and reformatted just so I don't have to hear that. I don't want you to change the way you do things, I just wanted you to be aware of it. As always guys, keep up the good work.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Pendin Fust wrote:
HangarFlying wrote:


Is it the spacing after the Cs in the sign that is causing the character angst?
Yep that's exactly it. Saying that the one figure taught the other to recognize bad kerning, and now it is causing angst every time it's seen (a lot of places).

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...got it. I was a little slow on the up-take. I had googled bad kerning and came across a blog that had pictures of bad kerning that made naughty words; I was looking for something like that and was confused because nothing was naughty.

Ok, so it's like the arrow in the Fed Ex logo—has anyone seen that?

Designer

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pendin Fust wrote:
Although, I've always wondered why the distinction between en-dash and em-dash. Sean, do you have any historical reasoning for the need to have the two?

No, merely personal speculation having to do with early moveable type and some stuffy old guy in the 1800s deciding one was right and the other wrong. :p

FYI, I'm pretty sure Paizo uses an en-dash in this way for the sake of readability: you're more likely to see the larger dash (and interpret –4 properly as "minus four") than you are with the smaller hyphen, which risks misinterpreting it as "four." Or perhaps that's something we inherited from Wizards of the Coast's style guide, but which was inherited from TSR...

Valantrix1 wrote:
It's nice to know why you guys do this sort of thing the way you do, but I'm telling you from a blind guy's perspective that it's very annoying in certain circumstances. For instance the En-Dash that is used before a number to indicate a penalty is quite tiresome. The reason for this is because the software I use to read my PDFs says it exactly the way you format it.

Honestly, it sounds like your program needs to be more contextually aware of punctuation. I have a list of similar complains about Microsoft Word. For example, the mathematical times symbol is × ... but if I use my OS's function to insert that symbol into Word, it appears as an underscore _ ... for no reason that I can tell. And if we import that Word file into InDesign, it's still an underscore, so it's not like Word isn't recognizing it properly and InDesign is, Word is messing up the character that's supposed to appear. :/

Anyway, Valantrix, maybe you could send an email to the company that makes your program and ask them if there's a way to have it recognize an en-dash as a minus?


Wolfboy wrote:
Drejk wrote:
Uh, since when the minus sign is not made with minus key on numeric keyboard like it was when I learned to write on keyboard (late eighties) and instead with some newfangled sign?
A hyphen (-), which uses what you call the minus key, and a subtraction symbol (–) are actually different typographically. The appearance difference is literally very small, but there IS a difference. And, ultimately they're not the same thing.

You mean that Excel, Calculator and any programming language that accepts that key in mathematical formulas are in error, then?

Computer is mathematical device first so the key we are speaking of is the minus key first and any other use that might be assigned to it are secondary.

Quote:
Most importantly, if the publisher you're working with/for wants the distinction, you make the distinction.

This is not exactly the answer when the en-dash was introduced on computers. I am certain that it wasn't part of ASCII (at least separate from -) when I looked for free/rarely used ASCII symbols that could be replaced with custom symbols.


Rite Publishing wrote:
Thanks for posting this Sean.

What other Seans could he have possibly posted?

(Well, this is a picky-punctuation thread. And, I probably misused my parentheses, or something.)


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

You know when I mentioned the comma splice in response to Judy's Weighing Dragons comments about commas in her commentary to Lisa's blog, I had no idea it would lead to all this...

Ah, the unintentional power of the interweb...

Andoran

Drejk wrote:


You mean that Excel, Calculator and any programming language that accepts that key in mathematical formulas are in error, then?

Computer is mathematical device first so the key we are speaking of is the minus key first and any other use that might be assigned to it are secondary.

Quote:
Most importantly, if the publisher you're working with/for wants the distinction, you make the distinction.
This is not exactly the answer when the en-dash was introduced on computers. I am certain that it wasn't part of ASCII (at least separate from -) when I looked for free/rarely used ASCII symbols that could be replaced with custom symbols.

If we were discussing Computing, rather than typography, I'd be forced to concede your point. In fact, as it stands, I do agree and see exactly what you're saying. However, we're discussing typography and how, specifically, it relates to writing—not addition or subtraction or imaginary numbers.

The relevance of when or why the en-dash superseded the hyphen as the symbol for penalty or negation doesn't matter. I'd tend to wager that Sean's above commentary about readability and the old typesetting guy—Burgess Meredith, anyone?—are as close to correct as we'll ever get.

My ultimate point, however, remains the same; as a freelance writer, if your editor says, "Do it this way," you do it that way, or you don't get more work.

At that point, argument or opinion becomes moot.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Wolfboy wrote:

My ultimate point, however, remains the same; as a freelance writer, if your editor says, "Do it this way," you do it that way, or you don't get more work.

At that point, argument or opinion becomes moot.

One can always discuss with the publisher and try to convince them to rethink their stance and consider adjusting standards while following their guidelines in the meantime. Paizo is the biggest publisher in their field and as such is perfectly capable of setting standards and discarding those that are unreasonable.

En-dash for minus is not very reasonable because:
-4 can hardly be taken for anything else than "minus 4" except by people with sight so bad that they will have problem reading rest of the text anyway.

But why use hyphen as "minus" sign? Anyone who works with computers is used to using hyphen key as "minus" sign in the first place, and I mean people who work with computers professionally. Requiring to use different notation for the same function in different projects is bordering on counter-productive: would it be reasonable to ask warehouse workers in right-hand traffic country to drive the forklift trucks according to left-hand traffic within the warehouse or would it be better to go with their training and memorized response?

I'd say that in particular case of "minus" sign the argument for using en-dash is much weaker than argument for using hyphen, at least unless there is another reason beyond unlikely risk of not seeing it, outweighing professional training.


Sean K Reynolds wrote:


• Separating measurements, like 10-foot-cube or 5-foot-square.

Ok, Sean, question about that one:

In PRD the measurements are noted as 10-ft. cube, or 20-ft.-radius spread (the second case shows that using "ft." shortening of foot does not prevent following with hyphen). What determines if between the number/measurement and the shape is hyphen or there is none?

Quote:
Note: In theory, you’d use an en-dash for a variable number, such as “the alchemist has 1–4 1st-level potions available,” but obviously that’s supposed to be a random number, you really should just write 1d4 instead of 1–4. This also prevents 1st edition weirdness where you’d expect the reader to know that 2–7 is 1d6+1.

Do I understand correctly that this would be the case used with variables that are not rolled but set by the GM, like:

Organization solitary, pair, or group (3–12)?


Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Callum wrote:
I've always disliked the use of the em dash for parenthetical statements – like this one – much preferring an en dash with a space to either side.
Well, your preference isn't the standard for most publishers...

Out of ten books I just picked at semi-random, six used dash (I can't tell if it were en- or em-dashes) with spaces, two used dashes without spaces and two hadn't used dashes in quickly browsed parts so it seems to vary between publishers greatly. *sigh*


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Callum wrote:
I've always disliked the use of the em dash for parenthetical statements – like this one – much preferring an en dash with a space to either side.

There is actually a difference (admittedly, for the most part it is an entirely stylistic difference) between parentheses, dashes, and commas.

Commas are innocuous, and generally provide clarification.
My youngest sister, Meghan, will be visiting soon.

Dashes say, "Look at me! I am the important part!"
They fled through the woods, and then George--dear, sweet George the accountant--jumped out from behind a tree and stabbed them.

Parentheses are a whispered side note that, although important, is not supposed to be a focal point of the sentence.
I'm heading out (movie night!), but I'll call you in the morning.

So it is kind of the difference between a whisper, a statement, and an exclamation.

Thank you Grammar Girl!


Nice!


Sean K Reynolds wrote:
Pendin Fust wrote:
Although, I've always wondered why the distinction between en-dash and em-dash. Sean, do you have any historical reasoning for the need to have the two?

No, merely personal speculation having to do with early moveable type and some stuffy old guy in the 1800s deciding one was right and the other wrong. :p

FYI, I'm pretty sure Paizo uses an en-dash in this way for the sake of readability: you're more likely to see the larger dash (and interpret –4 properly as "minus four") than you are with the smaller hyphen, which risks misinterpreting it as "four." Or perhaps that's something we inherited from Wizards of the Coast's style guide, but which was inherited from TSR...

Valantrix1 wrote:
It's nice to know why you guys do this sort of thing the way you do, but I'm telling you from a blind guy's perspective that it's very annoying in certain circumstances. For instance the En-Dash that is used before a number to indicate a penalty is quite tiresome. The reason for this is because the software I use to read my PDFs says it exactly the way you format it.

Honestly, it sounds like your program needs to be more contextually aware of punctuation. I have a list of similar complains about Microsoft Word. For example, the mathematical times symbol is × ... but if I use my OS's function to insert that symbol into Word, it appears as an underscore _ ... for no reason that I can tell. And if we import that Word file into InDesign, it's still an underscore, so it's not like Word isn't recognizing it properly and InDesign is, Word is messing up the character that's supposed to appear. :/

Anyway, Valantrix, maybe you could send an email to the company that makes your program and ask them if there's a way to have it recognize an en-dash as a minus?

Thanks Sean, I'll look into it. Frankly, until you mentioned it, the idea never even occured to me.

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