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Punctuation Guide: Parenthesis, Hyphens, Dashes, and Ellipses

Hyphen

hyphen -  is used to join two or more words together into a compound term. There are no extra spaces. 

  • part-time, back-to-back, well-known
  • He had the most up-to-date information available to help him make an informed decision.
  • After ending a long-time feud, he became friends with his brother-in-law.

*Consult a dictionary to see if your compound word uses a hyphen or is one word without a hyphen.


Hyphens are used when writing out double-digit numbers or fractions.cookies

  • He gave one-third of the last cookie to each of his friends, keeping none for himself. 
  • She turned eighty-five the year she published her first book.

Put hyphens between the letters of a word using hyphens to indicate that a word is spelled out letter-by-letter.

  • Do you want to go for a w-a-l-k? I can’t say the word in front of the dog, or he’ll go crazy!


The prefixes allex, and self should be joined to words using a hyphen. Suffixes such as elect should also be attached using hyphens.

  • Her ex-wife had stayed at the all-inclusive resort at the same time as the president-elect of Haiti.

You can also use hyphens to connect prefixes such as un and pre to capitalized words.

  • Robin’s family held a pre-Thanksgiving celebration every year since they couldn’t be together on the actual holiday.

Hyphens can be used to indicate a hesitation or stammer.

  • “I’m s-s-s-so sorry,” she cried.

Hyphens help clarify the meaning of words.

  • Resign means to quit. Re-sign means to sign again.

Dash

dash is used to separate words into statements.

The en dash which is twice as long as a hyphen which is used to indicate a range or connection. There are no spaces around an en dash.

  • They rode the Amtrak RaleighDurham train many times between 20172019.

The em dash is even longer and is used in place of a comma, parenthesis, or colon for emphasis. Most of the time you will see a space before and after this dash.

  • After the proposal, he gave his answer — Yes!
  • The beach — finally reopened after the oil spill — was gorgeous.
  • Maddey —  her umbrella in hand — walked out into the storm. 

  dog with umbrella

Citations

Brackets/parentheses are also used in academic writing to separate citations from the rest of the text. Check out our citation page for more information.

Here's an example of an intext citation in MLA style.

  • For optimal decomposition, experts believe you should aim for a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1 (Johnson, 2019).

Parenthesis (Round Brackets)

Parentheses () are used around nonessential information or abrupt changes in thought. Extra text that is separated out like this is called parenthetical text. 

  • Joe always turns his carefully edited essays in on time (he is a well-organized student).

*In formal academic writing, don't overuse parentheses and check to see if they are essential. Oftentimes the information could be in a separate sentence or included with commas or semicolons.


Punctuation rules

When the words in parentheses form a complete sentence, place a period inside the closing parenthesis.

  • No personal phone calls are allowed in the library. (Refer to the policy manual.)

When the words in parentheses are not a complete sentence, place the period outside the closing parenthesis.

  • The conference will be held next year (in March).treasure map

Always place commas, semicolons, and colons outside the closing parenthesis.

  • The adventure started with boarding a train (with a multitude of other travelers), and then finding the next clue to the treasure. 

If the information in parentheses has a question mark or an exclamation mark, use the punctuation mark inside the parentheses only if the sentence ends with a different mark.

  • Julio (remember him?) stopped by to see me yesterday in the library.
  • Do you remember Daniel (think you can remember back that far) from our English class?

Use parentheses to clarify preceding words.

  • Next week we will study the hydrologic cycle (also known as the water cycle).

Use parentheses for references or documentation of sources.

  • Fifty contracts were issued this year. (See Table 1.)
  • The U.S. leads the world in Internet use (Leslie 89).

Use parentheses around an abbreviation or an acronym when it is used with the spelled–out word.

  • Please submit the Student Aid Report (SAR).

Use parentheses in a horizontal list of items that uses either letters or numbers.

  • Include the following: (a) name, (b) address, and (c) ID number.

Use parentheses around numerals used with a spelled–out number.

  • I have ninety (90) dollars left from my paycheck.

Square Brackets and Ellipses

Square brackets [ ] indicate where you have inserted words within a quotation so that it makes more sense.

  • The thief said: "She [the store owner] told me to put my hands in the air."

The ellipsis (...) indicates where words are removed from the original quotation. It has space before and after the three dots.

  • She began to count, "One, two, three, four …" until she got to 10, then went to find him.
  • When Newton stated, "An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion ..." he developed the law of motion.