Dashes  (em dash)

Set elements off from the rest of the sentence

A dash (em-dash)
 

 

 

Dashes vs. Other Punctuation

DASHES

set off with dashesemphasis

A dash (em dash) is emphatic.  It may be used in place of commas, a semicolon, a colon, or parentheses.  Some consider its use informal.  Dashes should not be overused.

Dashes set off loosely related comments and sudden breaks in thought. Informally, they separate comments that stray from the central idea of the sentence. Formally, they separate a list of items that already includes commas.  

1 DASHES W/ ASIDE COMMENTS

Edward Lee—our politically passionate mayor—is running for office again.

He will make a great mayor—he thinks.

2 DASHES W/ SUDDEN BREAKS OF THOUGHT OR PAUSES

Will he—can he—win the election without the Hispanic vote?  a pause

The reasons—if these walls could talk— are many.  an interruption

3 DASHES W/ A SERIES WITHIN A  CLAUSE

Edward Lee—father, actor, businessman, and mayor—is running for office again.

Dashes work well to visually separate a phrase already containing commas from the main sentence.    

4 A DASH AFTER AN INTRODUCTORY LIST

Food, dry clothes, water and cell phone— everything is packed.

 

5 A SUMMARIZING COMMENT

His campaign is ready—everything is in place.  emphasis: indeed!

 

6 A SHORT EXPLANATION

There was only one thing left to do—leave!

 

 

7 LINES OF DIALOG

Will he he run?

How could he not.

 

8 ATTRIBUTION

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after just as well.

—Mark Twain

 

OTHER PUNCTUATION

set off with commasthought

Other forms of punctuation are more specific in use, Many consider commas to be more formal for setting off comments.

Commas set off comments closely related to the central idea of the sentence. The comment usually modifies, qualifies, clarifies or adds details to the text before it.

COMMAS

Edward Lee, the current mayor, is running for office again.

He will make a great mayor, or so he thinks.

ELLIPSIS

Will he…can he… win the election without the Hispanic vote?

(Ellipsis points can also serve to indicate a pause.)

 

PARENTHESES & E.G

Edward Lee wears "many hats" (e.g., father, actor, businessman, and mayor.)

 

COLON

Food, dry clothes, water and cell phone: everything is packed.  (Use a colon.)

SEMICOLON

The boat is packed; everything is in place. (Using a semicolon has less impact).

COLON

There was only one thing left to do: leave! 

QUOTATION MARKS

JOURNALIST:  "Will he he run?" (See Quotation Marks #1.)

ANALYST:  "How could he not."

 

PARENTHESES

"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after just as well."  (Shakespeare)

 

 

Compare dashes, parentheses and commas Comma–comments.

When a dash is used for attribution, the quote is aligned right and the attibution is placed on a separate line. (Sabin 212)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dash

Comparative length and use

Comparison of dash length
 

 

Hyphen, en dash, and em dash

HYPHEN EN DASH EM DASH

A hyphen is slightly shorter than an en dash. A hyphen is a standard key on the keyboard of a computer. Unicode (U+2012)

An en dash is half the length of an em dash.  It is slightly longer than a hyphen.  If you are uncertain how to insert an en dash symbol, you can use a hyphen instead. Windows (Alt 1050), Mac (Shift Option -), Unicode (U+2013) HTML (–).

An em dash is the width of a capital M.  It is twice the length of an en dash.  If you are uncertain how to insert an em dash symbol, you can use two hyphens. Windows (Alt 1051), Mac (Shift Option -), Unicode (U+2014) HTML (—).

CONNECTS WORDS CONNECT NUMBERS IN A RANGE SET OFF COMMENTS

Its a three-dog night.

Let's play ping-pong.

www.grammar-quizzes.com

Read pages 213–230. up to and including

We are open 4–11 p.m., Monday–Friday.

John Smith (1960–) an open ended date

We won't go there again—ever. (no space before or after the dash)

 

SPLIT A SYLLABLE AT END OF LINE MINUS SIGN SET OFF A LIST

We are a large multi-
national company that
is rapidly expanding.

 

$ 1,500 – 500

We bought fruit—mangoes, papayas, and bananas— at the market.

Also see Hyphens and Number Modifiers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

You can't stay here for the weekend-leave

Using a hyphen in place of a dash changes the meaning. 

He is known everywhereworldwide.

He is known everywhere - worldwide.

Clean, functional, and beautiful—features in a good hotel room.

SOLUTION

You can't stay here for your weekend leave a refusal to allow a military person quarters on the weekend.

You can't stay here for your weekend—leavea request to leave

He is known everywhere—worldwide.   Not:  He is known everywhere — worldwide.

Don't  (1) use a hyphen for a dash; (2) add a space before or after the dash.

Clean, functional, and beautiful—all are features in a good hotel room.

The clause is missing a verb.  Use all, these, or they followed by a verb to complete the clause.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Punctuation Notes

Dashes

Advanced

 

 

TYPING DASHES USAGE NOTES

A hyphen is a standard key on a keyboard. Unicode (U+2012 )

 

A hyphen links words to avoid ambiguity (e.g., a three-year-old dog).

A hyphen is also used as a line break. (CMOS 6.81)

See Hyphens.   

An en dash does not usually exist on a standard keyboard but can be represented with two hyphens. (A hyphen is a standard key.)

Other modes of entering an en dash are: Windows (Alt 1050), Mac (Option -)  Unicode is (U+2013), HTML (–)

An en dash spans as with a range of pages (p. 2–7) a range of time (Monday–Friday, 2010–2016, July–August) a range of other items (Articles I–IV). (CMOS 6.83)

An en dash is also used to represent a minus sign. (Sabin 459)

Do not use prepositions with an en dash to express a range.  He stayed from  8:00 to 9:00. But not: He stayed from  8:00–9:00.  It costs between 500 and 600 dollars. But not: It costs between 500–600 dollars.

An em dash does not usually exist on a standard keyboard but can be represented with three hyphens. (A hyphen is a standard key.)

Other modes of entering an em dash are: Windows (Alt 1051), Mac (Shift Option -)  Unicode is (U+2014), HTML (—)

 

 

A em dash is most often used in place of a comma: (1) setting off nonessential elements that require special emphasis; (2) setting off essential elements that already contain commas. (Sabin 201–218)

A dash is also used in place of a semicolon, colon or parentheses for a stronger but less formal break. (Sabin 204-206.)

Do not use other punctuation before a dash. Not: He was a good soccer player, — and a scholar.

An exclamation or question mark may be used before a dash.  The soccer player—do you know him?—appeared on the news.  He was there — on time!  But not: He was there — on time—!

Also see AP Style Book 327; Burchfield dash 197;  MLA 3.2.5; APA 4.06.; CMOS 6.87–94.

A three em dash  is ------ (6 hyphens) or 3 em dashes ———   

(Sabin 217 d.)

A three em dash represents a missing word.  Senator M——— was seen leaving the lady's room. (CMOS 6.95)

A three em dash is used in bibliographies to represent an author's name in subsequent entries.

Swift, John. As the World Turns. New York: Pelican Publishers. 2012. Print.

———  Stop the World. New York: Pelican Publishers. 2014. Print.

———  Let me off. New York: Pelican Publishers. 2016. Print.

(CMOS 6.96)

Also see AP Style Book (327) "Punctuation: dash"; APA 4.06 "Dash", 4.13 em dash, 2.12 "Footnotes", 4.15 in headings and titles; MLA 3.2.5 "Dashes and Parentheses".

 

 

Resources

Style Manual Abbreviations: AP (Associated Press), APA (American Psychological Association), CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style), GREGG (Gregg Reference Manual); MLA (Modern Language Association)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice

Dash Usage

politician

 

 

Is the dash used correctly?

  1. Select the option: correct or incorrect.
  2. Read the feedback to check your response.

 

1.
Politicians want to serve and improve the lives of people—really!

   

2.
The community wants growth,—jobs, housing, and schools—and they want it soon.

   

3.
Life is ninety per cent perspiration—my kindergarten teacher told me—and ten per cent inspiration.

   

4.
Edward Lee was mayor from 2008—2012.

   

5.
Mayor Lee wants all city employees to ride bicycles to work—what is he thinking—on fair-weather days.

   

6.
Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."—John F. Kennedy

   

7.
A good leader should be—passionate, patient, productive and positive.

   

8.
Handsome, tall, witty, eloquent—are all qualities a politician needs.