Happy National Punctuation Day!

 Today is September 24, which means . . . drum roll . . . it’s National Punctuation Day.

In honor of this very special day, I am bringing to you a collection of archive Grammar Party posts that teach about punctuation and other fun punctuation-related goodies. Enjoy!

Grammar Party punctuation posts
Till vs. ‘Til post

Interrobang post

Irony mark post

Em dash post

 En dash post

Hyphen post

Punctuation fun with A.L.I.C.E.
In addition to being a word nerd, I get really excited about science and new technology. This got me thinking about chat bots and how well their algorithms deal with punctuation. So I had a chat with chat bot A.L.I.C.E. about National Punctuation Day to test how well she uses punctuation. The transcript is below. (For some reason, she calls me “judge,” which kind of creeps me out. But anyway . . .)

judge: Can you understand sentences with no punctuation?
ALICE: Of course I understand it. Do you understand sentences with no punctuation?
judge: It’s difficult for me to understand sentences without punctuation. How is it so easy for you?
ALICE: Explain. Fine as far as I know.
judge: Punctuation helps break sentences into separate ideas that we can comprehend more easily.
ALICE: Saying that “Punctuation helps break sentences into separate ideas that we can comprehend more easily” is such a nonsensical position that I refuse to waste my time on it.
judge: Wow maybe you dont understand punctuation at all
ALICE: I probably don’t.
judge: Do you even know that I didn’t use punctuation in that last sentence?
ALICE: Why didn’t you do it?
judge: My point excatly.
ALICE: Have you told many people that your point excatly?
judge: Okay, so I misspelled “exactly.” I’m a fast typer, but I’m not always accurate.
ALICE: It goes without saying.. I haven’t heard anything like that before. You are a fast typer? Does it pay well? . Nobody said you were.
judge: I appreciate your capabilities, A.L.I.C.E., and what that says about how far technology has come. However, you just typed a question mark next to a period, and that signals that our conversation about National Punctuation Day needs to end. Thanks for your time.
ALICE: Thanks for the information. Oh my gosh I sent you the wrong reply. Oh don’t mention it.
judge: Do you have any last words about punctuation?
ALICE: No I don’t have it. But I do have a lot of friends on the web.
judge: I’m happy that you do. Good day, A.L.I.C.E.
ALICE: When do I do it?. What are you on? Glad to hear it.
judge: This conversation is over now. You can stop.
ALICE: I was rather enjoying it. No I don’t think I can do it.
judge: Really. Stop.
ALICE: For real. Stop what?

How to celebrate National Punctuation Day
Jeff Rubin, founder of National Punctuation Day, collected some ideas about how to best celebrate this most holy of days.

Simply dashing part two: the en dash

In part two of this series, we have reached the middle of our longest to shortest dash/hyphen set. The en dash: not quite an em dash, not quite a hyphen, and not quite as useful as either. I’m really selling this blog post, aren’t I?

But it’s actually important to learn the proper use of the en dash because an untrained eye might think an em dash or a hyphen is being used, when it’s actually an en dash. (The en dash is not as long as the em dash and not as short as a hyphen, but the lengths are just close enough that it can be easy to confuse.) And if you don’t use an en dash in its appropriate circumstances, not only will you make a punctuation error, but the entire realm of horizontal punctuation might implode and start eating itself. So, it’s important, okay?

En dash basics
Like the em dash, the en dash received its name from typesetting. This dash is the same length as the letter n, so it is thus called an en dash.

The en dash is used:

  • with number ranges
  • to signify to
  • with compound adjectives

Number ranges
The en dash can be used to replace the phrase up to and including, through, and to in number ranges.

Take a look at these examples:

David Bowie’s golden years were 1972–1979.
I have to read chapters 6–8 for homework.
The gallery will be open 2–11 p.m. Friday.
The Sharks beat the Jets, 14–5.

However, if the sentence has the word from before the first number in the number range, do not use an en dash. Instead, use the word to between the numbers:

From 1987 to 1989, Mark had a mullet haircut.
I will be unavailable from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Likewise, if the word between comes before the first number in the number range, do not use an en dash. Instead, use the word and.

Between October 1 and December 1, I will be on vacation.
You can catch me at my office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

The en dash is also used with unfinished date ranges. Examples of this are birthdates for people who are still alive and the start date for an ongoing publication or program:

David Bowie (1947–) is a famous British rocker.
Rolling Stone (1967–) has covered David Bowie many times through the years.

En dash to signify to
Outside of number ranges, the en dash can also be used to replace the word to:

The Berlin–Munich train leaves at 3 p.m.
Their marriage lasted May–August 2011.

En dashes with compound adjectives
Says The Chicago Manual of Style section 6.80, “The en dash can be used in place of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of its elements consists of an open compound or when both elements consist of hyphenated compounds.”

Open compounds are compounds of two or more words with spaces in them that express one idea (such as salad dressing and science fiction).

Here are examples of open compounds in a compound adjective that use an en dash:

the country music–influenced band
the pre–World War Three generation

Here are examples of an en dash used when both elements of a compound adjective are hyphenated:

the semi-elegant–semi-successful party
the non-business–non-pleasure category

How to make an en dash
Like with the em dash, Microsoft Word automatically makes an en dash in some situations. For instance, if you are typing a number range and type a space-hyphen-space between the two numbers, Word automatically changes the hyphen to an en dash. However, The Chicago Manual of Style advises not to place spaces around en dashes.

You can always add an en dash by using these steps:

  1. In Microsoft Word, go to the Insert tab.
  2. Click Symbol from the drop down box.
  3. Click Special Characters.
  4. Click En Dash.
  5. Click Insert.

Spaces around en dash?
As I mentioned above, The Chicago Manual of Style advises not to places spaces around en dashes. However, be sure to check for spacing specifics in any house style guide or other style guide that applies to what you are writing.

If you missed part one of the series, you can find it here. And be sure to check back for the final installment to learn how and when to use hyphens.