May 21–28 or May 21 to 28?

A good portion of my time every week is spent reading and changing sentences like this:

“The festival runs May 21-28 with the gates open every day from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.”

What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, nothing, technically. Except that in professionally edited articles, hyphens and dashes aren’t words. Sentences are supposed to flow, almost like live conversations. And for both these reasons, I consider the hyphens in that sentence to be really bad choices.

“The festival runs May 21-28” would be spoken as either “The festival runs May 21 TO May 28” or “The festival runs May 21 THROUGH May 28.” Either way, the thought is represented by a real world and not some little symbol trying to pinch hit.

It’s similar to the reason that we never use ampersands to stand in for the word “and.” Sure, if an ampersand shows up in a proper name, like Harry & David, we leave it. But editors never use it as a word.

Most editing styles, including the ones I follow in my work, aim for a smooth visual flow of words. That’s why capital letters are kept to a minimum and initials in place of real words are discouraged. And to me, that’s another good reason to just use the word “to” or “through.” It’s just more digestible in running text.

Of course, outside of running text, hyphens or dashes can be used to indicate a date or time range. For example, in lists and charts. But in a sentence in the middle of an article, I believe words should be written as words.

Tags: ,