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The 'tilde' key, or (~) is commonly found in programming and in other languages to express repetition of characters, for example, 'Woooo!' would become 'Woo~!' and in Japanese text, the tilde is commonly used to portray a flirtatious mood. It can also be used to show approximation, e.g. '1~20'.

Is there any use of the tilde as punctuation in the English language? Would it be appropriate to use it to convey emotion, or express repetition or is there a certain use of the tilde other than approximation between two numbers?

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    I have only seen it to mean approximately, and in an informal piece: "He ordered ~20 pieces." I wouldn't write it in a business letter or in fiction. In American English, it's not used to express a range of numbers; the en-dash is used for that (1–20). Feb 22, 2017 at 17:15
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    I haven't seen the tilde used or to signify a repetition of characters.... usually in math, if we want to designate a repetition of numbers we put a line above the last decimal to indicate it will keep repeating that. Also, it isn't just the Japanese that use the ~ as part of their writing. The Koreans and Chinese use it too for same reasons. Additionally, it also adds the connotation that the statement was said with kindness. In terms of American English, I don't recall it's usage for much of anything as everyone else said outside of approximations.
    – ggiaquin16
    Feb 22, 2017 at 18:14
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    You can use it to spell a word taken from Spanish that happens to have a tilde in it. Feb 25, 2017 at 7:31
  • It used to be used in print dictionaries to refer to the head word of an entry e.g. the entry for game might read "game a sport or pastime. ~ bird a bird shot for sport, as pheasant or partridge. fair ~ a legitimate target..." But now dictionaries are online, such space saving is unnecessary.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 29, 2022 at 20:14

6 Answers 6

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Other than indicating approximations for dates and numbers (e.g., ~100 CE), I am not aware of any commonly-recognized uses for the tilde. If you use it for other purposes in a text, I'd recommend putting in extra context to make the meaning clear early on in the text.

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The tilde symbol is commonly used for:

  • Expressing approximations.

  • Mathematical and programming processes.

It generally is never used in fiction and would probably confuse the reader because of that. However, it has more uses in other languages. In Chinese with instant messaging stuff, sometimes you can put a little '~' on the end of your sentence to be cool, casual, and stuff, but that's not done in English. Also, the Chinese keyboard on your phone gives a lot of these crazy faces like ~\ (≧▽≦) /~ that use the tilde.

I wouldn't use it in fiction unless you absolutely have to. It isn't used in the context of fiction and generally in English, only used for approximation.

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  • yea, the only time I would add it to a story would be if I am quoting something from someone who is Chinese or Japanese and this person adds it in and the reader of the note goes uhh what is with the ~ or something lol or if they are using Spanish words... but in terms of english, it just osn't something that is used.
    – ggiaquin16
    Feb 22, 2017 at 21:52
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I concur with others above that using it in writing can show approximation ("She had about 20 cards in her hand" vs "She had ~20 cards in her hand").

The other use I’ve seen of the tilde is in Spanish: A tilde over the letter “n” gives the n the “nyay” sound. I learned that in Spanish years ago.

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  • I hope that wasn't today's Wordle solution that I've just edited out of your answer, because I haven't done it yet. (I edited it out because it's not relevant to your actual answer.)
    – F1Krazy
    Jun 29, 2022 at 13:10
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As stated in other answers, in English, the tilde is almost always placed before a number or a time or date to denote a short hand that the value is an approximate, not an exact, value. In the following sentence:

John Doe was born ~1850 and died August 1st, 1901. He was large for his age, which helped when he lied about his age when he signed up to join the Union Army in 1864. His mother was still shocked that the union would let a 14 year old boy go to war.

The read is that the author does not know when John Doe was born to a specific date, but does have documentation of the exact date of his death. John Smith could have been born prior to 1850 or some time after, but he was of an age that he would have been a 10-15 year old boy during the course of the U.S. Civil War (1860-1865).

Generally, its used in non-fiction and in notation rather than directly in text. In legal documentation, Lawyers prefer to use the phrase "on or about" or "about" for reliable guesses. This allows for testimony where the exact value is not known but the general value is consistent. A person can say ~10 people when in fact there were 8 because their memory is unreliable and not everyone will count out the exact number of people involved in an event.

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It seems that in old manuscript documents the tilda represented the repetition of 'm' or 'n' as shown in the example here (Susannah). [From parish register of St Mary-in-the-Marsh in Kent.]

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I agree with Adam Miller's answer that no, in general spoken English, the tilde isn't used for anything.

However there are a few specific subcultures/groups that use it.

  • Spanish (which is steadily seeping into English, esp in certain parts of SW America) uses it for one of its characters of its standard alphabet: ñ
  • Linguists put it over a character to indicate that it's nasalized.
  • Mathematics uses it to mean "approximately" in front of a number. i.e. ~100 means 100, give or take a few.
  • Mathematics also has a symbol ≈ that looks like two tildes over each other. It's used similarly to = but to indicate that the two things on either side are roughly, although not necessarily exactly, equal.

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