English English language Expression Punctuation Usage Writing

A timely hyphen

Q: When we describe a range of time, we say “from 3 to 4 p.m.” or “between 3 and 4 p.m.” What preposition should we use when there’s a hyphen between the two numbers? For example, “Our shop is open from/between 1-2 p.m.”

A: This is a style issue, and our go-to source for a question like this is The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.). The answer?

You don’t use either “from” or “between” when the two numbers are connected by a hyphen.

You use a preposition only when the numbers are connected by “to” or “and” (“open from 2 to 4 p.m.” … “open between 2 and 4 p.m.).

Here are additonal examples: “It was missing from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.” … “It was missing between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.” … “It was missing 10 a.m.-8 p.m.”

We should explain here that most people use a hyphen for this purpose, but a publishing house would prefer a mark called the “en dash.” It got that name in the 18th century because the piece of type used to print it was as wide as the letter “n.”

The en dash is a teensy bit longer than the hyphen but smaller than the usual dash, which is technically called an “em dash” because the type is as wide as the letter “m.” Oh yes, and there are also “2 em dashes,” and “3 em dashes.” Got that?

The Chicago Manual, which is a guide used by publishers, refers to the en dash, not the hyphen, in discussing how to connect numbers in a range:

“For the sake of parallel construction, the word to, never the en dash, should be used if the word from precedes the first element in such a pair; similarly, and, never the en dash, should be used if between precedes the first element.”

The book uses these examples: “Join us on Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m., to celebrate the New Year” … “She was in college from 1998 to 2002 (not from 1998-2002).”

When the en dash is used to connect numbers, according to Chicago, it signifies “to,” “up to and including,” or “through.”

Remember, where the Chicago Manual says “en dash,” mentally substitute the word “hyphen.” The average reader can’t tell the difference without a microscope, and frankly, life is difficult enough.

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