Dashes: Use and Examples (2023)

by Craig Shrives

This Page Includes...

  • Dashes: Use and Examples (2)
  • Why Dashes Are Important Dashes: Use and Examples (3)
  • Key Points Dashes: Use and Examples (4)

Using Dashes

Dashes have five uses:

(1) To show ranges (e.g., with times and dates).

  • World War II ran 1939–1945. Dashes: Use and Examples (5)

(2) To divide the equal parts of a two-part adjective.

  • The London–Paris flight is cancelled. Dashes: Use and Examples (6)

(3) To extend a sentence.

  • It depends on one thing — trust. Dashes: Use and Examples (7)
  • (In this example, the dash has been used like a colon.)
  • It depends on trust — it always has. Dashes: Use and Examples (8)
  • (Here, the dash has been used like a semicolon.)
  • It needed — trust. Dashes: Use and Examples (9)
  • (Here, the dash has been used like an ellipsis (three dots).)

(4) To mark a parenthesis (e.g., an afterthought or a clarification).

  • It depends — as my mother used to say — on trust.
  • (In this example, the dashes have been used commas or parentheses, i.e., brackets.)

(5) To credit a quotation.

  • "Love is a serious mental disease." — Plato

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More about Dashes

Dashes Are Usually an Option, Not a Necessity

For the most part, the dash does not have a unique role in grammar. It is usually used as an alternative to another punctuation mark.

When used to extend a sentence, a dash can replace a semicolon (;), a colon (:), or three dots (...) used as a pause for effect.

When used as parentheses, dashes are alternatives to brackets or commas.

(Video) Dashes | Punctuation | Khan Academy

The Types of Dash

There are two types of dash: the em dash (—) and the en dash (–).

The em dash is the same length as the character "M" (uppercase), and the en dash is same length as the letter "n" (lowercase).

As dashes do not feature on a standard keyboard, lots of people use hyphens instead of dashes. That's not such a crime, but it's something of a missed opportunity to show off that you know the difference between a hyphen and a dash. Some writers like to use two hyphens (--) to represent one dash to differentiate.

Here are the four main dash-like characters ordered longest to shortest:

NamePunctuationHow To Get One
em dashCtl + Alt + minus (on the numeric pad)
minus signminus (on the numeric pad)
en dashCtl + minus (on the numeric pad)
hyphen-- (the key to the right of "0")

The hyphen and the en dash are almost indistinguishable from each other when using normal size fonts.

More about Using Dashes

(1) Using Dashes with Ranges (e.g., Times and Dates)

Dashes: Use and Examples (10)

A dash can be used between times and dates. (A dash will usually replace the words from...to or between...and.) For example:

  • USSR existed 1922–1991.

Note: This is an alternative to the following:

  • USSR existed between 1922 and 1991.
  • USSR existed from 1922 to 1991.
  • USSR existed 1922 to 1991.

Here are some more examples of using dashes with ranges.

  • The project will be delivered January–June.
  • I will visit 13 January–24 January
  • I will visit 0800–0900.

Using a dash in a range is particularly common in tables. For example:

TimeEvent
0800–0830Introduction
0830–0930Lesson 1
0930–1230Lessons 2–3

The Values in the Range Are Inclusive

When using dashes between ranges, the values are inclusive. For example:

  • The Great Fire of London took place 2–6 September 1666.
  • (As the values are inclusive, the fire lasted 5 days.)

Note: If you're a stickler for the rules, use an en dash between times and dates. You will get away with a hyphen. Do not use an em dash.

(Video) English Grammar Basics: How to Use a Dash

(2) Using Dashes in Compound Adjectives with Equal Parts

Dashes: Use and Examples (11)

A dash can replace a hyphen in a compound adjective with two equal elements. For example:

  • The India-Pakistan issue
  • The NATO-Warsaw Pact agreement

Note: If you're a stickler for the rules, use an en dash in your adjective. You will get away with a hyphen. Do not use an em dash.

(3) Using Dashes to Extend Sentences

Dashes: Use and Examples (12)

Using a dash to replace a colon

A dash can be used to replace a colon that offers more information about something previously mentioned in the sentence. For example:

  • She demanded just one thing from her students: effort. Dashes: Use and Examples (13)
  • She demanded just one thing from her students — effort. Dashes: Use and Examples (14)

In the two sentences above, the word "effort" is known as an appositive. An appositive renames something. Here, the appositive renames "one thing.") Here is another example:

  • It is by the fortune of God that we have three benefits — freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and the wisdom never to use either. Dashes: Use and Examples (15)
  • (Mark Twain's original quotation uses a colon. The appositive is "freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and the wisdom never to use either." It renames "three benefits.")

Using a dash to replace a semicolon

A dash can be used to replace a semicolon that replaces a period (full stop) to give a smoother transition between two sentences:For example:

  • She demanded effort from her students. That's all she ever asked for. Dashes: Use and Examples (16)
  • She demanded effort from her students; that's all she ever asked for. Dashes: Use and Examples (17)
  • (A semicolon gives a smoother transition between the sentences.)
  • She demanded effort from her students — that's all she ever asked for. Dashes: Use and Examples (18)
  • (Here, the semicolon has been replaced by an em dash.)

Using a dash to replace an ellipsis (i.e., three dots)

A dash can be used to replace three dots used as a pause for effect. For example:

  • As she prodded through the sludge, something caught her eye. It was the unblemished unmistakable sparkle of ... the diamond on her grandmother's ring. Dashes: Use and Examples (19)
  • As she prodded through the sludge, something caught her eye. It was the unblemished unmistakable sparkle of — the diamond on her grandmother's ring. Dashes: Use and Examples (20)

Here is another example:

  • Familiarity breeds contempt — and children. Dashes: Use and Examples (21) (Mark Twain)
  • (The original is written with three dots to create a pause for effect.)

Good News and Bad News

Good news! There are specific rules about when to use a semicolon, a colon, or three dots, so you have to know what you're doing if you choose one of them. One of the good things about a dash is that it can be used as a substitute for all three.

(Video) Dash Rules | SAT & ACT Grammar Rules To Use On Test Day | 2020 SAT & ACT Tips & STrategies

Bad news! Using dashes every single time is not a good look. It will also cut down on your options for expressing yourself and showcasing your grammar skills. Therefore, you must still learn how to use the others. (You could think of the dash as a get-out-of-jail-free card that you can use occasionally.)

Note: If you're a stickler for the rules, use an em dash to extend a sentence. You will get away with an en dash or a hyphen.

Read more about dashes to extend a sentence.

(4) Using Dashes as Parentheses

Dashes: Use and Examples (22)

We're all familiar with putting explanations or afterthoughts in brackets (just like this). But, brackets are just one of the choices you have for inserting extra information into a sentence. You can also use commas or dashes. For example:

  • Mark Jones (who has lived in our village for 20 years) is the world Scrabble champion and the national Bananagrams champion. Dashes: Use and Examples (23)
  • (brackets used)
  • Mark Jones — who has lived in our village for 20 years — is the world Scrabble champion and the national Bananagrams champion. Dashes: Use and Examples (24)
  • (dashes used)
  • Mark Jones, who has lived in our village for 20 years, is the world Scrabble champion and the national Bananagrams champion. Dashes: Use and Examples (25)
  • (commas used)

You don't need to justify using dashes for parentheses, but just be aware that they can look a little stark.

Note: If you're a stickler for the rules, use an em dash for parentheses. You will get away with en dashes or hyphens.

Read more about dashes for parentheses.

(5) Using Dashes to Credit Quotations

Dashes: Use and Examples (26)

You can use an em dash to credit a quote to someone. For example:

  • "There used to be a real me, but I had it surgically removed." — Peter Sellers (1925–1980) Dashes: Use and Examples (27)
  • (Note the em dash before Peter Sellers and the en dash between the dates.)

Here is another example:

  • "Name the greatest of all inventors. Accident." — Mark Twain (1835–1910) Dashes: Use and Examples (28)

Note: You should use an em dash when crediting a quotation. An en dash or hyphen looks wrong.

Be Consistent When Formatting Dashes

Most people like to see a dash (an en dash or an em dash) with a space before and after. For example:

  • Skip — a guard dog for Bonds Ltd in Bury — hospitalizedtwo burglars before returning to eat the steaks they had thrown him. Dashes: Use and Examples (29)

However, it is possible to omit the spaces, especially with em dashes. For example:

(Video) Hyphens vs. dashes | Punctuation | Khan Academy

  • Skip—a guard dog for Bonds Ltd in Bury—hospitalizedtwo burglars before returning to eat the steaks they had thrown him. Dashes: Use and Examples (30)

The options are listed in order of popularity:

  • en dashes with spaces
    (e.g., Bill – aged 17 – won the cup.)
  • (Note: This is only the most popular because people use hyphens instead of en dashes.)
  • em dashes with spaces
    (e.g., Bill — aged 17 — won the cup.)
  • (Note: This is a good option to show you know the difference between a hyphen and a dash.)
  • em dashes without spaces
    (e.g., Bill—aged 17—won the cup.)
  • (Note: This is a possibility. It could be useful to keep the whole thing on one line when using a PC.)
  • en dashes without spaces
    (e.g., Bill–aged 17–won the cup.)
  • (Note: This is a possibility too.)

Why Dashes Are Important

It's worth learning about dashes to make use of their versatility, but, if that's not enough, here are two more good reasons to include more dashes in your work.

(Reason 1) A dash will be safe if you're unsure whether to use a colon or a semicolon.

Look at these two examples:

  • Take my advice — I don't use it anyway.
  • (Here, the dash replaces a semicolon (;). A colon would be wrong because nothing in "sentence" 2 renames anything in "sentence" 1.)
  • Take my advice — stay alive.
  • (In this example, the dash replaces a colon (:). A semicolon would be wrong because "sentence" 2 renames my advice in "sentence" 1. In other words, "sentence" 2 is an appositive of "my advice.")

Appositive? Renaming? Sentences 1 and 2? It's all a bit confusing.

If you're unsure whether to use a semicolon or a colon, use a dash. It covers both roles. Dashes are stark though, and a page full of dashes is not a good look. Yes, dashes are safe, but they're a bit slapdash (pun intended).

(Reason 2) Dashes used as parenthetical punctuation are unmistakably clear.

When dashes are used to mark a parenthesis (an explanation or afterthought that you'd happily put between brackets or commas), they demarcate your parenthesis starkly. That could be a good thing to give your parenthesis some emphasis. But, dashes can look a little unwieldy. Nevertheless, they're a good alternative for brackets when brackets might be too informal and for commas when the sentence already has lots of commas. For example:

  • Last week, Dr. Mark Jones — a resident of Bexley since he graduated from Bexley Secondary School in 1990 — was crowned, for the second year running, the world Scrabble champion. Dashes: Use and Examples (31)
  • (In this example, the writer did not want to use brackets because they would seem too informal and did not want to use commas because there were too many other commas in the sentence.)

Key Points

  • If you're unsure whether to use a colon or a semicolon, use a dash. Easy life.
  • If you need a parenthesis to stand out — I mean really stand out — replace your breezy brackets or confusing commas with daring dashes.

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FAQs

Dashes: Use and Examples? ›

Use dashes to mark the beginning and end of a series, which might otherwise get confused, with the rest of the sentence: Example: The three female characters—the wife, the nun, and the jockey—are the incarnation of excellence. Dashes are also used to mark the interruption of a sentence in dialogue: Example: “Help!

What are the 3 types of dashes? ›

There are actually three different types of dashes: the em-dash, the en-dash, and the 3-em dash.

Where do you use dashes in writing? ›

Dashes are used to show a range or in place of parentheses to show that information has been inserted into a sentence. Dashes are only used in informal writing; in academic and business writing, use parentheses, commas, or colons instead. Do not put a space before or after a dash.

Why use a dash in a sentence? ›

A dash is a horizontal line that shows a pause or break in meaning, or that represents missing words or letters. Note that dashes are rather informal and should be used carefully in writing. Dashes are often used informally instead of commas, colons and brackets. A dash may or may not have a space on either side of it.

Can you use a dash in a sentence? ›

A dash (—) is a punctuation mark used to set off an idea within a sentence and may be used alone or in pairs. Dashes interrupt a thought in a more dramatic way than a phrase enclosed in commas, but less theatrically than parentheses.

How do you use dashes in names? ›

A hyphenated last name is when you and your spouse combine both of your last names with a hyphen. This is also called a double surname. In many states, when you fill out your application for your marriage license, you'll be writing your intended married name on that application.

What are the 3 uses of the dash? ›

Dashes
  • To set off material for emphasis. Think of dashes as the opposite of parentheses. ...
  • To indicate sentence introductions or conclusions. ...
  • To mark “bonus phrases.” Phrases that add information or clarify but are not necessary to the meaning of a sentence are ordinarily set off with commas. ...
  • To break up dialogue.

How do you use example? ›

Noun He set a good example for the rest of us. She gave several examples to show that the program is effective. We've chosen three examples of contemporary architecture for closer study.

What is a dash in a sentence called? ›

The dash (—), also called the em dash, is the long horizontal bar, much longer than a hyphen. Few keyboards have a dash, but a word processor can usually produce one in one way or another. If your keyboard can't produce a dash, you will have to resort to a hyphen as a stand-in.

What are the types of dashes? ›

Visualizing the Three Types of Dashes
Dash TypeDash Style
hyphen-
em dash
en dash_

How do you use dashes and hyphens? ›

A hyphen joins two or more words together while a dash separates words into parenthetical statements. The two are sometimes confused because they look so similar, but their usage is different. Hyphens are not separated by spaces, while a dash has a space on either side.

What is the difference between dash and hyphen? ›

A hyphen joins two or more words together while a dash separates words into parenthetical statements. The two are sometimes confused because they look so similar, but their usage is different. Hyphens are not separated by spaces, while a dash has a space on either side.

What are the different types of dashes? ›

There are three forms of dashes: em, en, and the double hyphen. The most common types of dashes are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). A good way to remember the difference between these two dashes is to visualize the en dash as the length of the letter N and the em dash as the length of the letter M.

What are the 3 uses of the dash? ›

Dashes
  • To set off material for emphasis. Think of dashes as the opposite of parentheses. ...
  • To indicate sentence introductions or conclusions. ...
  • To mark “bonus phrases.” Phrases that add information or clarify but are not necessary to the meaning of a sentence are ordinarily set off with commas. ...
  • To break up dialogue.

What is a 3 em dash? ›

Create an em dash by typing two hyphens without spaces between the hyphens and no spaces before or after the hyphens. Em-dashes are not generally used in formal documents. The en-dash is used between dates and times, and the 3-em dash is used to signal omitted information in certain (often legal) situations.

What are the two kinds of dashes? ›

There are two types of dashes: em dashes and en dashes. Both get their names from their length. An em dash is about as long as the letter "m" (—), whereas an en dash is only about half that length, or the length of the letter "n" (–).

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