Tip: Use the en-dash correctly

tiny hyphen, middle-sized en-dash, big em-dash

Hi Rachel,

I've got a question about how we should enter dates on a) the website and b) print documents.

I have always put dates like this:

6:30pm - 7:00pm

I notice some people put dates like this:

6.30pm-7pm

And others like this:

6.30pm — 7.00pm

It's pretty confusing!

Do you have a preference on how to include times in web content? And is it different in print?

Kind regards,
Merry-Elisabeth

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Dear Merry-Elisabeth

This is the sort of point that can drive you crazy when you start comparing different web sites. Here's a good rule: settle arguments about grammar or punctuation with a reference, not a preference.

This issue is not specific to web content, but is a punctuation issue that most organisations would include in their general style guides. (No change is needed for web content.) So first, consult your organisation style guide. That overrides other options. And if this point is not in the organisation style guide, consult a (published) style book that is used by staff.

This is what they'll say, most likely, for the two dates or times in this situation:

Link them with an en-dash (a.k.a. an en-rule, as in ruler) without spaces.
Use the en-dash closed up in elements that form a range:
pp 23–36 1939–45 9.30–5.30

The en-rule is a line longer than a hyphen and shorter than an em-dash. Most people are unaware of its existence, and just use a hyphen or a dash.

It's good to understand when to use the en-dash. It is rather elegant, and this esoteric knowledge makes you feel superior.

  • The en-dash is a linking device implying to or and.
  • The hyphen joins two words to create a new word with its own meaning.
  • The em-dash separates two items.

I hope this helps.

My two favourite style books are:
New Hart's Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors, 2005, Oxford
Style Manual: For Authors, Editors and Printers, 6th edition: Wiley

All best wishes — keep up the good work!

Rachel


Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine

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May 12, 2010

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