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Q. When typesetting a negative figure, such as negative 6%, is it better to use an en dash or the dash on my keyboard?
A. Dashes, minus signs, and hyphens can confuse the best of us.
The minus sign is a mathematical symbol used to indicate subtraction, as well as the negative value you mentioned. The typographically accurate designer should use the minus symbol whenever possible, especially when combined with other math symbols.
Figure 1. The hyphen, en dash, and minus symbol from Linotype Compatil Fact Pro, ITC WacWakOops! Std, TypeCulture Alphatier, Adobe Chaparral Pro, Curlz MT.
Figure 2. The minus in use in the same fonts.
The minus sign is a character in the Symbol font available with most operating systems and in most other (but not all) fonts. Usually, it’s different from both the hyphen and the en dash. The minus symbol usually matches the design, width, vertical position, and spacing of the other math symbols, and is often the same stroke as the horizontal stroke of the plus sign.
The easiest way to access the minus symbol in a font is via the glyph palette; it is located in front of the register mark, with the Unicode ID 2212. In the Symbol font (but not other fonts), it is the hyphen key.
Figure 3. The location of the minus symbol in the Adobe Illustrator glyph palette and its Unicode ID are circled in red.
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