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The hyphen you can insert with the key next to the zero on your keyboard is an ambiguous character suffering from an identity crisis. It can't decide if it's a hyphen -, a minus −, an em dash — or an en dash –.

The Unicode specification describes the key as a hyphen-minus and defines very specific replacements for its use.

Use it to insert a hyphen, but never for a minus or a dash, since it does not have the correct width for either, or the vertical position for the latter.

Neither an em dash nor an en dash should be confused with the hyphen, which has the following functions:

  1. To join compound words together.
  2. To connect compound words
  3. To connect the syllables of words broken at the ends of lines
  4. To connect prefixes and suffixes to words

The modern trend is away from hyphenation, and to eliminate the hyphen after a prefix.

Hyphens are always required with the following prefixes:

  • half
  • quarter
  • quasi
  • self
  • ex
  • all

Permanent compounds tend to become solid, and temporary compounds tend to be hyphenated only when necessary to avoid ambiguity.

Hyphens in Decimal Notation
Character Notes Code Render
hyphen punctuation - -
minus mathematical −
hyphen character punctuation ‐
non-breaking does what its name implies ‑
soft hyphen indicates where a word may be broken at the end of a line ­ a­b
hyphen point punctuation ‧
hyphen bullet punctuation ⁃
z1 double oblique punctuation ⸗
z1 with diaeresis punctuation ⸚
Symbols in HTML

Entities, symbols & characters have four methods of reference:
Named, Decimal, Hexadecimal, and Unicode, but only the Decimal form is reliable across browsers and platforms.

To use decimal notation encoded in UTF-8 insert
<meta charset=“utf-8”>
as the first line in the <head> of your document.

UTF-8 Encoding

The name is an acronym of Unicode Transformation Format – 8-bit.
Unicode is an abbreviation of Universal Coded Character Set.
It is a Character encoding capable of encoding all characters,
1, 114, 112 in total.

It is the dominant character encoding for the world wide web, accounting for 88.9% of web pages in April 2017.

  1. The non-breaking hyphen &#8209; does just what its name implies.
  2. The soft hyphen &#173; also known as a discretionary hyphen is used for one purpose only —to indicate where a word may be broken at the end of a line.
    Otherwise, it is to remain invisible and not affect the appearance of the word.
  3. The hyphen character &#8208; is meant to be used in place of the hyphen-minus when a hyphen is exactly the desired character.
  4. The hyphen point &#8231; is that bullet-like character you find in some dictionaries to separate syllables. That is its only use, but if you’re creating an online dictionary, using it will make your entries look more professional.
  5. The hyphen bullet &#8259; is a version of the hyphen character &#8208;

Hyphens are Not Dashes

Character Notation Render
hyphen &#45; -
hyphen &#8210;
en dash &#8211;
em dash &#8212;
hyphen &#8208;
nonbreaking &#8209;

The quote below illustrates the use of the hyphen &#45;, the en dash &#8211; and the em dash &#8212;. In some fancy fonts the difference is more than just the width — hyphens have a distinct serif.

"Re-read the book — at least 2–3 times — then let it sink in."

"Re&#45;read the book&#8202;&#8212;&#8202;at least 2&#8211;3 times&#8202;&#8212;&#8202;then let it sink in."

Some typographers prefer to use an en dash surrounded by full spaces instead of an em dash.

full space + en dash + full space

&#160;&#8211;&#160; [ – ]

Others prefer to insert hair spaces on either side of the em dash.

hair space + em dash + hair space

&#8202;&#8212;&#8202; [ — ]

Others prefer to insert hair spaces on either side of the en dash.

hair space + en dash + hair space

&#8202;&#8211;&#8202; [ – ]