The use of a single character for both hyphen and minus was a compromise made in the early days of fixed-width typewriters and computer displays. However, in proper typesetting and graphic design, there are distinct characters for hyphens, dashes, and the minus sign. Usage of the hyphen-minus nonetheless persists in many contexts, as it is well-known, easy to enter on keyboards, and in the same location in all common character sets.
The hyphen-minus is often used to represent an en dash, which may be used to indicate:
- Ranges, such as a time range of "2000–2004"
- Connection or direction, as in "The Los Angeles–London flight."
- Compound adjectives, as in "He submitted his manuscript to an e-book–only publisher"
The en dash is normally longer (the width of a letter "n") than a hyphen, though in a fixed-pitch or typewriter font there is no difference. The hyphen connects closely, the en dash less closely, while the em dash (the width of a letter "m") separates.
The minus sign is nominally the same width as the plus sign, longer than a hyphen; an en dash, being closer to the right length, is sometimes preferred over the hyphen-minus to represent a minus sign.
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