What Are Dashes Used For? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Dashes

A dash (—) is a punctuation mark with several uses (explained below). A dash should not be confused with a hyphen (-), which is used as a joiner in compound adjectives (e.g., "first-class restaurant") and compound nouns (e.g., "water-bottle").

Dashes are slightly longer than hyphens when handwritten. (As most keyboards do not have a dash readily at hand, some writers use two hyphens (--) to represent a dash, but most just use a hyphen.)
Read more on our main page about using dashes.

What Are Dashes Used For?

Dashes do not have a unique use (i.e., they are used in places where other punctuation marks could be used). Here are the seven ways that dashes are used:

(1) Dashes As Parentheses. Dashes (generally, "em dashes") can be used as parentheses. For example:
  • On Saturday, I took the club secretary (Pat Derbyshire) to Skegness.
  • On Saturday, I took the club secretary - Pat Derbyshire - to Skegness.
  • (commas could also be used)
(2) A Dash As a Pause for Effect. A dash (generally, an "em dash") can replace three dots when used as a pause for effect. For example:
  • I eventually found it...in my shoe.
  • I eventually found it — in my shoe.
(3) A Dash in Place of a Semicolon. A dash (generally, an "em dash") can replace a semicolon used to merge two independent clauses. For example:
  • He cannot afford it; the flight alone is too much.
  • He cannot afford it — the flight alone is too much.
(4) A Dash in Place of a Colon. A dash (generally, an "em dash") can be used to replace a colon to introduce an appositive. For example:
  • She is only interested in one thing: money.
  • She is only interested in one thing — money.
(5) A Dash to Replace "From..To..." or "Between...And...". A dash (generally, an "en dash") can be used between times and dates. For example:
  • 1999–2020.
  • July–November.
  • 14 February–24 February
  • 0900–1000.
When using a dash to separate times and dates, omit words like "from...to..." and "between...and..."

(6) A Dash in Place of a Hyphen in a Compound Adjective with Equal Parts. A dash (generally, an "en dash") can replace a hyphen in a compound adjective with two equal elements. For example:
  • The India–Pakistan issue
  • The Smith–Jones case
(7) A Dash to Credit a Quotation. A dash (always an "em dash") can be used to credit a quoation. For example:
  • "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever
    they go." — Oscar Wilde

Other Punctuation Marks

Here is a slider with lessons to the other punctuation marks:

See Also

More about dashes What are compound adjectives? What are compound nouns? Glossary of grammatical terms