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.)
The Two 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).
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