The Dash – The Tool for Informal Authors
The dashing and dynamic dash is used when commas, parentheses, semicolons, etc., just don’t have the empathetic oomph to convey an idea or interject a thought. However, the overuse of the dash can make your writing appear overdramatic and never ending without the finality of other stops or end punctuation marks.
Similar to the days of old typewriters, in the plain text world of online publication, creating a true dash (–) just isn’t possible. To appease dash purists – if it’s not possible to create a long dash – two hyphens side-by-side will suffice. However, it’s becoming more widely acceptable to use one dash with a space on either side – which we do here.
If you have the fantastic ability to create an en dash (length of an “N”) or an em dash (length of an “M”), its usage is indicated below: em dash or en dash.
Use a dash if a sentence contains an appositive (noun or noun phrase next to another noun or noun phrase). em dash
My brother – a nurse by training – is incredible at CPR.
Use a dash if a sentence has a smaller sentence within it that is an abrupt interjection, similar to a parenthetical thought or interjection. em dash
No one would ever suspect Clark Kent – a bespectacled, serious reporter – of being Superman.
Use a dash for asides, explanations, or parenthetical statements. em dash
The villain was last seen fleeing the crime scene – police were hot in pursuit.
Use a dash in the place of a colon for more emphatic effect. em dash
Listen up – while you were out, I earned a doctorate, and won a Nobel Peace prize.
Use a dash for a series within a phrase. em dash
He listed the qualities – organized, team player, and punctual – that we’re looking for in a dog sitter.
Use a dash for attribution. em dash
“What would men be without women? Scarce, sir … mighty scarce.” – Mark Twain
Use a dash to indicate a journey from one place to another. en dash
The New York – Paris flight was over 16 hours.
Use a dash to indicate a continuation of an amount (e.g., pages, years, etc.). en dash
On pages 432 – 460, Vlad the Impaler was described to have lived 1431 – 1476.
Here are two more dashing tips:
- Never use more than two dashes in a sentence, i.e., don’t create a run-on sentence with dashes.
- Dashes are traditionally not accompanied by other forms of punctuation – except when a question mark or an exclamation mark is needed to help convey the parenthetical phrase.
If you’re going for an informal tone, feel free to use the dash to spice up your writing. Just don’t forget to use these dash usage tips to strengthen your writing skills, as well as maintain your credibility as an Expert Author. We will have more grammar tips in the next few weeks, so stop by the Blog for the latest and greatest tips to error-free articles.
Did you miss our last edition of Top Punctuation Howlers? Find out more about the hyphen here!