What is a dash?

A dash is a punctuation mark used to set off an idea within a sentence and may be used alone or in pairs. Dashes interrupt a thought in a more dramatic way than a phrase enclosed in commas, but less theatrically than parentheses. To form a dash, type two hyphens—without a space before, after, or between them—and your word processor will convert them to a dash.

How should dashes be used?

  • To provide further explanation, clarification, or a summary of the material that comes before the dash
    • Cell phones, hand-held computers, and built-in TVs—each a possible distraction—can lead to a potentially dangerous situation if used while driving.
  • To introduce a short list within a sentence
    • The young woman took all of the necessary supplies—leash, pet carrier, and paperwork—to the shelter when she went to pick up her newly-adopted dog.
  • To define a term
    • Genocide—the systematic killing of a racial group—is an atrocity that has created black holes in history.
  • To highlight information at the end of a sentence
    • Childhood obesity has become a grave concern in many parts of the world—particularly during the last two decades.
  • To indicate a change in tone
    • She finally let down her guard—and cried like a baby—when the counselor urged her to let go of her pain.
  • Use dashes thoughtfully and sparingly, or they may lose their effectiveness.

For additional information on dashes: