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PUNCTUATION > Apostrophe > Colon > Comma > Dash > Exclamation > Parenthesis > Period > Questionmark > Quotations > Semicolon

Punctuation marks: How to use the DASH

Punctuation marks: How to use the DASH The dash is a very useful mark in a sentence. It is also the most overused—and abused—punctuation mark used carelessly by writers. The visibility of the dash makes it a useful mark for guiding the eye of the reader to the unity of the sentence. Writers like to use the dash to emphasize repetition of statement and elaboration of detail. In long wordy sentences, the inexperienced writer stuffs the sentence with too many commas, semicolons, and even parentheses which often confuse readers. The dash can clear a sentence of needless punctuation because of its multitude of uses.

Dashes are similar to hyphens, but differ from them primarily in length, and serve different functions. The most common versions of the dash are the en dash () and the em dash ().

Rules for Using the Dash

1) Use a dash to mark abrupt changes in sentiment and in construction.

EX.— Have you ever heard—but how should you hear?
EX.— Some men are full of affection—affection for themselves.

2) Use a dash to mark pauses and repetitions used for dramatic or rhetorical effect.

EX.— They make a desert, and call it—peace.
EX.— The lovely Anne, who donated money for our fundraiser—she passed away last night.
EX.— He has lost wealth, home, friends—everything but honor.

3) Use a dash to express in one sentence opposition of action or emotion or to increase the speed of the dialogue by a succession of snappy phrases.

EX.— She starts—she moves—she seems to feel the thrill of life with her career.

EX.— The three stellar words in the vocabulary of the freelance writer to trade and technical journals are—Accuracy—Timeliness—Importance.

EX.— Nature instantly ebbed again—the sunset returned to its place.

EX.— The pulse fluttered—stopped—went on—throbbed—stopped again.

EX.— Should I go on?—No.

4) Use a dash to separate the repetition or different amplifications of the same statement.

EX.— You speak like a boy—like a boy, who thinks the old gnarled oak can be twisted as easily as the young sapling.

EX.— Let no sad tears be shed, when I die, over me, but bury me deep in the sea—in the sea.

5) At the end of a series of phrases which depend upon a concluding clause.

EX.—The Amazon Kindle, Apple's iPad and iPod, and other mobile devices—these are e-reader devices to read ebooks.

EX.— To pull down the false and to build up the true, and to uphold what there is of true in the old—let this be our endeavor.

EX.— He excelled in three branches—arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.

6) Use a dash when you abruptly terminate a sentence.

EX.— If I thought he said it, I would—
EX.— I was left speechless, hurt, scared—

7) Use a dash to precede expressions which you add to an apparently completed sentence, but which refer to some previous part of the sentence.

EX.— He wondered what the police officer would say—he had a way of saying the unexpected.

EX.— I know my wife was hurt—I shouldn't have said those things.

8) To connect extreme dates in time indication.

EX.— The war of 1961-1965.
EX.— In memory of Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.

9) Use a dash to define verse references in the Bible or page references in books.

EX.— Matt, v: 1-11. Matt, v: 1-11. See pp. 50-53. See pp. 50-53.

NOTE. In instances in the two preceding rules, the en dash (–) may sometimes serve if the em dash (—) appears too conspicuous.

10) Parenthetical Expressions

Use the dash before and after a parenthetical expression that is too much detached from the sentence to take commas, and yet is too closely related to enclose within parentheses.

EX.— That done, she turned to the old man with a lovely smile upon her face—such, they said, as they had never seen and never could forget—and clung with both her arms about his neck. They did not know that she was dead, at first.—DICKENS.

11) Sideheads and Extracts

You can use a period and a dash after a sidehead; that is, a heading at the beginning of a paragraph. You can also place these marks after an extract, when the name of the author or work follows in the same paragraph. In these cases the dash is an ornamental mark used by the printer.

EX.— THE AGE OF ELIZABETH.—Lectures on the History of English Literature, from the Revival of Learning to Milton, exclusive of the Drama.

EX.— Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.—ANTHONY ROBBINS.


Use the dash mark sparingly. Do not use it to take the place of other punctuation marks nor to separate complete sentences.

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PUNCTUATION > Apostrophe > Colon > Comma > Dash > Exclamation > Parenthesis > Period > Questionmark > Quotations > Semicolon