A lot of people use hyphens and dashes incorrectly. You see it all of the time: in poorly formatted news pieces online, estate agents' advertisements, social media...
For those of us who are grammar aware, seeing this can turn the stomach. However, some take the rules with a pinch of salt. Either way, here is what the general rules are (in the UK) for hyphens, en dashes and em dashes:
· Used to avoid ambiguity and when an adjectival compound phrase precedes a noun (-)
· Do not hyphenate compounds where the first element is an adverb ending ‘-ly’
· Do not use a hyphen if the compound is well known, e.g., ‘council tax refund’
· ‘Mid-’, ‘non-’ and ‘anti-’ always take a hyphen, except when they make up a part of one word
· ‘Re-’ should have a hyphen if the word is not commonly found or to distinguish different forms. Otherwise, it is just part of a word, e.g. ‘redo’
· Are longer than a hyphen (–)
· When using dashes parenthetically, use en dashes with a space on either side
· Use without spaces rather than a hyphen to convey distinction, e.g., Manchester–Birmingham line
· Should not replace ‘and’ if the word ‘between’ is used
· Use ‘to’ instead of en dash where there are also hyphens in a compound, e.g. 2- to 3-mile walk
· August–October or 10 August – 14 October
· 1922–33 or c. 1922 – c. 1933
· Are longer than en dashes (—)
· Should be avoided and not used parenthetically·
· Only used to suggest omission of a word or part of a word, e.g., Mr A B Cunningh--
· If you are unsure on how to use hyphens, en dashes and hyphens, your editor can correct these
Some academic publishers choose to use em dashes where en dashes would be used, due to the use of the en dash to replace the mathematical minus sign, so the rules are flexible. Similarly, others choose to use en dashes in the place of em dashes for omissions of words, Ghost & Ribbon included, but this depends on the literature.
This being said, we would always recommend this general usage if you are unsure. Also available is our Grammar Guide on how to ensure your manuscript makes grammatical sense before submitting. Guaranteed, even the best of us make mistakes in our writing, hence why editors will still take a look at your work to weed out any typos or errors.
Were you aware of these rules before you began writing? There is no problems with this as this is what editors are for! Let us know.