Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Dictionary.com's halfway-decent hyphen/en-dash/em-dash quiz

Dictionary.com slaps up language quizzes every few days, and while most of the quizzes are a joke, some are actually respectable. I got a 7 out of 7 on this latest quiz, which is about the proper use of hyphens (-), en dashes (–), and em dashes (—). I'm reproducing the quiz here because I know it'll disappear from Dictionary.com in a few days. An answer key is provided below; just highlight it to see the answers.


1. She awoke that morning___a cloudy, nondescript morning___completely unaware that her life was about to change with the arrival of a letter from her grandmother.

a. set of hyphens (-)
b. set of en dashes (–)
c. set of em dashes (—)

2. Does this sentence correctly use the en dash? 
The pertinent information can be found on pages 42–53.

a. yes
b. no

3. Which sentence is correct?

a. I never thought this day would arrive - I’m going to be published!
b. I never thought this day would arrive–I’m going to be published!
c. I never thought this day would arrive—I’m going to be published!

4. His 56___year___old uncle persisted in behaving in a puerile manner.

a. set of hyphens (-)
b. en dash and hyphen (–, -)
c. set of em dashes (—)

5. Both hyphens and en dashes can be used to indicate a line break in the middle of a word.

a. true
b. false

6. Does this sentence correctly use the hyphen?
Simon and Bilal used to be inseparable as children-living next door to each other made their friendship blossom-but when Simon moved away, they fell out of touch.

a. yes
b. no

7. The unexpected torrential rain put a real damper on the speaking event___the organization would be lucky if at least 10___15 people showed up now.

a. hyphen and em dash (-, —)
b. en dash and hyphen (–, -)
c. em dash and en dash (—, –)

ANSWERS (highlight to view)

1. c (set of em dashes)
2. a (yes)
3. c (I never thought this day would arrive—I’m going to be published!)
4. a (set of hyphens)
5. b (false)
6. b (no)
7. c (em dash and en dash [—, –])


7 correct = awesome
6 correct = respectable, but not worthy of worship
5 correct = okay, but obviously no perfectionist
4 correct = decidedly mediocre
3 correct = unloved by anyone
2 correct = actively shunned by everyone
1 correct = disgustingly leprous
0 correct = burning in the language-god's hell


Use the em dash (—) for dramatic pauses, for separating "parenthetical" expressions (as commas also do), and as a surrogate for a colon (i.e., information/explanation to follow; see quiz question #3 above).

Use the en dash (–) to separate numbers that indicate an interval, e.g., an interval of years (It was during the 1939–1945 period that American industry revved into life. Or: You can find the answer on pages 235–267.).

Use the hyphen for syllabic breaks, hyphenated compound words, phrasal adjectives that precede the nouns they modify (a tax-paying citizen), etc.  Note that hyphens are slowly dropping out of use in many instances, e.g., "nonfiction" as opposed to "non-fiction."  Both expressions still exist, but the non-hyphenated expression is slowly winning out.

If you're on a Windows machine, and you don't know how to make em dashes and en dashes, the "alt" keystrokes are:

em dash:  ALT-0151
en dash:  ALT-0150

Try to avoid creating em dashes by using two hyphens (--) or by surrounding a single hyphen with spaces ( - ).  I confess that I used to use the two-hyphen method for em dashes for the longest time, but once I learned the alt-key method, I stopped doing that.  I wonder how many readers noticed the change on my blog.


John Mac said...

True confession--I never knew there was such a thing as an "en" or "em" dash. I use hyphens on occasion, sometimes one, sometimes two, but had no clue there were different forms available for different purposes. I'm going to get right on learning about this--as soon as I master commas.

Kevin Kim said...

I'll believe the comma thing when I see it!

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Believe it or not, I scored 8! How? I was so good, I didn't even have to check the answers.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Kevin Kim said...


Congratulations! An 8 out of 7! I guess that gives you god-emperor status!
All bow down!