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.