Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Tip: Dashes and quotation marks

Many people, designers included, appear to have let go of a few typographic traditions and customs, probably because typing has over-taken writing as the most popular form of getting information down. One problem is that people forget the difference between a hyphen and a dash. A hyphen joins two words as a compound word and is the key next to your plus/minus key on the computer, ‘-’. 

Dashes are used to join sentence clauses and do not form compound words. They come in two kinds: an en-dash (American style) and an em-dash (British style). The en-dash is generally accepted as the norm because the longer em-dash looks old-fashioned and too similar to a hyphen (it is input with no spaces before or after it). The en-dash is slightly shorter and requires a space before and after it. Holding down alt and pressing the hyphen key will, I believe, input an en-dash. You’ll notice it’s slightly longer than a hyphen.

en-dash –
hyphen -

One thing to remember is that all typefaces are different and some, like Courier, make little/no visual distinction between a hyphen and en-dash. The cheek…

Quotation marks and possessives
One thing I’ve noticed on this blogging network is that many people are unfortunately misusing their punctuation! The prime (') has almost wiped out quotation marks (‘’). I even saw a blog whose title used a prime to suggest elision in a word and it was set in an enormous font size on display for all. To make it clear, you have quotation marks for quotes, apostrophes (a single closing quotation mark) to show possessives or indicate missing letters, and primes which are used in measurement, i.e. 6'1''. 

To input an opening quote mark with a mac computer hold alt and press the closing square bracket symbol (the one on the right of the two). (Apologies to non-mac users; you’ll have to google it to learn how). To make a closing quote mark, do the same thing but this time hold alt+shift. ’ – this can be used as an apostrophe too, so that it is it’s and not it's. If any Americans are reading (hello!), it’s the opening square bracket that provides double quote marks.

Incidentally, just hold down alt and press any of your letter keys – typographic ‘glyphs’ galore. I’m not really sure why the default keys don’t include the commonly used quote marks; it is a hassle having to hold down keys and finding the square brackets every time. Hard life eh?

These changes to typography can, of course, be made in word software and Adobe inDesign; if all else fails just check the ‘insert special character’ lists and look for the relevant option. That’s all for now!


  1. Dude, I just totally made a hyphen by holding down the alt key and pressing the hyphen key! Going to catch my breath before attempting the quotes.

  2. Awesome! You do mean en-dash though, right? …jeez

  3. Um, it was longer in appearance?

    The bar is high! and so is the en-dash thingie!

  4. yeah, sounds good — you’re gaining typographic superiority!


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