Dash in Place of 'To' or 'Through'


Little grammar and usage issues that drive other people nuts don’t bother me. That’s because a lot of the “errors” that annoy a lot of people are superstitions – stuff like how you supposedly can’t use “like” to mean “such as” or how you supposedly can’t begin a sentence with the word “and.” Not true and not true.

A lot of real errors don’t bother me, either, because I know how hard it is to avoid every grammar, punctuation and usage pitfall in the world. So when I see “chomping at the bit” in place of the more accurate “champing at the bit,” it doesn’t bug me.

But that doesn’t mean I'm immune to petty feelings about other people's writing. It's just that my copy editing experience just channels my peevishness toward other things -- weird little issues that almost no one else would object to.

Lately, the thing that bothers me most is a dash or hyphen used as a word -- specifically the word “to,” “through” or “until.”

Class is 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The camp is for children 5-9.

I hate that.

My reasons aren’t great. The most forgivable reason is I have to change these when I edit. At the newspaper where I work, the style is to use actual English words in these constructions. “Class is 1 TO 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.” “The camp is for children 5 THROUGH 9.”

This is a style thing, by the way. Technically, it’s not wrong to use punctuation here. But in running text, I think it’s awful. When you read, your brain is in what I call “word mode.” It expects to see words.

That’s why I think Chicago’s style of writing out a lot of numbers creates better flow than you’d get with numerals. Compare “There were plenty of people at the concert, at least fifty of whom were passed out on the ground” to “There were plenty of people at the concert, at least 50 of whom were passed out on the ground.”

It might be just me, but I’m convinced that when you’re reading, words flow and things that aren’t words break that flow.

In graphic elements like information boxes, dashes and hyphens in ranges or time spans are just fine. When in complete sentences, I think words are the better choice.



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