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Notes about using dashes and hyphens in English and Vietnamese

Dash and hyphen are used with great frequency in texts, however, these two symbols are often confused with each other in both English and Vietnamese.

Distinguishing between dash and hyphen

Dash is a symbol used to separate parts of a sentence, while hyphen is used for words.
Dash (–), with the same length as that of the normal character “n”, is placed between the preceding word and the following word with or without a space, while hyphen (-), shorter than the dash, is written between the preceding word and the following word without a space.

Dash and its main uses

In both English and Vietnamese, the dash is used to separate the explanation part of a sentence. For example:
Chồng chị – anh Nguyễn Văn Dậu – tuy mới hai sáu tuổi nhưng đã học nghề làm ruộng đến mười bảy năm. (Her husband – Nguyen Van Dau – is twenty-six years old but has learned to work in the fields for seventeen years.)
I passed my exams – granted, I cheated – but who cares!

Besides, the dash is written between two numbers to indicate running numbers or a range of values. For instance: the average temperature in Vietnam is 22 – 25oC, the average annual rainfall in Vietnam is 1,500 – 2,000mm.
In addition, the dash is also used to join two or more different proper names, for example: tuyến Hà Nội – Lào Cai (Hanoi – Lao Cai line), or to indicate peer relations, for example: quan hệ hữu nghị Việt – Lào (Vietnam–Laos friendship), it should be noted that in English the dash is written between the preceding word and the following word without a space like Los Angeles–London flight or US–Russia relations.

In addition to the three functions above, the dash has some other features that differ between English and Vietnamese. In Vietnamese, the dash is placed at the beginning of a line in order to make a list or indicate lines of a dialogue, while in English this rule is not specified. Also, in English, dashes can be used for phone numbers. In this case, the dashes are written among the numbers without space, for instance: 408‒555‒6792.

Hyphen and its main uses

Due to word formation in English, hyphens are used to connect words or to join affixes with stems to form compound words, for instance: stated-owned companies, pre-war.

In Vietnamese, hyphens are used only in transliteration of foreign languages, foreign human names or foreign place names, for example: Lê-nin (Lenin), đề-pô (depot).

In this blog, due to limited knowledge of the writer, some other uses of dash and hyphen are not mentioned.

Hoang Nam

Hoang Nam