University of Louisville
Join the Dash –Dash—Revolution!!!
The Dash is a very exciting piece of punctuation that isn’t used as much as it should be. Have you ever used a Dash in something you’ve written? Even though the Dash does some jobs that are covered by other pieces of punctuation—the comma, the colon, or the parenthesis—it can really help to add a little visual spice to whatever you are writing. Here is what I mean:
1) The Dash is most often made by typing two hyphens - - side by
Don’t get the hyphen and the Dash confused! They do different jobs.
Think of the Dash as a bigger line connecting bigger ideas.
To type a Dash, type the first word, two hyphen marks and then the next word with no spaces in between. It should look like this - - when you are typing, and this—when you are done.
2) The Dash can be used to set off important, otherwise
Setting aside phrases that are not directly related to the main idea of
the sentence is a job normally done by parentheses ( ), but sometimes
these phrases can be very important ideas. Point at them with the Dash
to give them a special emphasis.
A phrase looks cut off from the sentence when in parentheses.
My mother always told me (and she was always saying strange things like
this) to rinse behind my ears while using dental floss.
You can emphasize the phrase with the Dash.
My mother always told me—and she was always saying strange things like
this—to rinse behind my ears while using dental floss.
3) The Dash can be used to set off an appositive phrase that
An appositive is a phrase that explains the word or words that come
before it. Usually it is set off with commas, but if the appositive phrase
has commas of its own the Dash can make thing a bit clearer.
You could say,
The monsters, who have been living under my bed, in my closet, and in my
sister’s room since I was four, ate my homework!
But isn’t it better to point those monsters out with the Dash?
The monsters—who have been living under my bed, in my closet, and in my
sister’s room since I was four—ate my homework!
4) The Dash can be used to start off a list of items.
Instead of a colon at the beginning of a list, use the Dash to point the items
out. Notice that the hyphens in the second example connect words, while
the dash connects ideas.
When preparing to write poetry, I always get out my favorite pens—Inkwell,
Rollerball, Blacky, and The Duke.
Richard Dean Anderson once built a fully-functional forty-foot submarine
out of house-hold items—a banana, two empty toilet paper rolls, seven
paperclips, and a ukulele.
5) The Dash can be used to set off a change in tone within a
This is the one job that can really only be done with the Dash. Even so, it is a jog
that is hard to define. When a sentence has a dramatic shift in tone, the Dash will point this out. You may get a better feel for what this “shift in tone” means by looking at the examples.
Last weekend we both went camping, fishing, hiking, skeet shooting, bungee
jumping, and disco hopping—I love my Dad!
The years from 1990 to 2000 constituted the greatest decade in music
history. It was the decade of Hootie and the Blowfish—I rest my case.
I told her I could give her the moon and the stars, right then and there, if she
would only say she loved me too—she asked if I had kept the receipts.