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Dashes as a Punctuation Tool: Role of Dashes in Writing

Dashes are commonly known as horizontal lines that can be found in the middle of the text. Dashes have similarities with another punctuation device, a hyphen, but unlike the latter, are used to signify a pause in a sentence. Dashes are also placed in an academic text for the purpose of separating word groups.

Dashes in a sentence

Dashes are often divided into three forms: em dashes, en dashes, and the double hyphen. There are several ways on how to differentiate between the symbols, including visualization. In this case, the en dash is portrayed as the length of the N letter, while the em dash is depicted as the M letter respectively. It is good to remember that the dashes are not only different in length. They also have opposite functions in a sentence. Dashes and hyphens can also share similarities. However, dashes are always found within the sentence. Unlike the hyphens, they often introduce ideas and replace commas.

Instead of using parentheses and colons, which are considered more formal, a dash is applied. It creates a sense of informality and adds clarity to the context. Dashes are often used in informal chats to convey the meaning of the paragraph. They are not as perfunctory as other punctuation marks and can also provide context for the narrative. In addition, it should be mentioned that em dashes are not used in formal documents. This form of dashes is reserved for indicating a time and a date. The double hyphen, on the other hand, appears in a sentence to indicate the information that may have been omitted. It is used for legal documents and official papers.

  • ✔️ He was supposed to work 10-20 hours to get accepted.
  • ✔️ By Friday, you should have finished reading chapters 1-7.
  • ✔️ The years 1980-1985 marked the beginning of a new era.
  • ✔️ In 1990-1992, a new attitude towards music was created.

Em dashes

Em dashes are used as a replacement for other, more formal punctuation devices. For instance, the em dash can take on the role of parentheses at the end of the sentence. In other cases, it is used as a replacement for commas at the end of the sentence.

  • ✔️ After the nightfall, they decided to stay at home (or, rather, were forced to do it).
  • ✔️ After the nightfall, they decided to stay at home—or, rather, were forced to do it.

Colons act as amplifiers for the clause that comes before the punctuation mark. Dashes, on the other hand, are not as perfunctory and formal. Therefore, em dashes are generally classified as more intense than other punctuation devices. They are placed in a sentence to add a strong emotional edge or set an informal tone.

  • ✔️ They were waiting for two people: the manager and the boss.
  • ✔️ They were waiting for two people— the manager and the boss.

Em dashes can also be used as a replacement for words that have been omitted. If the censorship has been added to the text, em dashes are inserted to substitute the words that are absent. In this case, em dashes are usually written as three consecutive lines.

  • ✔️ A relative of the judge, John ———, said that he did not believe the evidence.
  • ✔️ The letters faded with time, so the parchment held the words that started with “From your ——— friend”.

Em dashes are used in a sentence to emphasize additional information. In this case, the em dashes are placed in pairs. Em dashes can also substitute commas and parentheses and are used without space:

  • ✔️ All kinds of sweets—such as chocolates, candies, and drops—are children’s favorites.
  • ✔️ Many years ago—when men went hunting—dangers were everywhere.

An em dash is used to indicate a pause in a sentence. It can also be used to emphasize a certain part of a sentence or a change in tone that occurs in the text:

  • ✔️ There was no way they could convince the team – they were too stubborn.
  • ✔️ She didn’t know what to expect – they had hardly finished the conversation.

It should be pointed out that em dashes are often referred to as a part of informal writing. They should not be used excessively in order to avoid confusion in academic writing.

1. Em dashes can replace commas in a sentence:
✔️ They left at nightfall – or, rather, they were forced to.
2. Em dashes can set a strong emotional tone:
✔️ They were waiting for the two: the manager and the boss.
3. Em dashes can replace omitted words:
✔️ John ———, the witness, refused to believe the evidence.
4. Em dashes can be used to provide information:
✔️ All sweets – chocolates and candies – are loved by kids.
5. Em dashes can be used to indicate a pause in a sentence:
✔️ They could not convince them – they were too stubborn.

En dashes

En dashes may appear similar to em dashes. However, they are shorter and are used for indicating the numbers or spans of time in a text. In some cases, en dashes can be used as substitutes for the words “to” and “through”. There are examples of the use of en dashes below that indicate a time span or a range of numbers:

  • ✔️ The papers numbered 202-212 were given to the students.
  • ✔️ The approximate time of their arrival is 2:00-4:00 pm.

The en dash is frequently used for connections that can be found between the words. An en dash is also used for words that have already been used with a hyphen. Modifying phrases also require an en dash to sound complete. According to the basic punctuation guide, using the dash as a modifier creates an adjective in a sentence:

  • ✔️ The pro-democratic party will always be the first in this game.
  • ✔️ The award-winning actor came on stage to thank everyone.

The en dash can also be used in a sentence that needs to indicate a certain number or a time period. When this happens, dashes are placed in the following way:

  • ✔️ The year 2000–2001 was a great one for the company.
  • ✔️ This was a job that required him to work 9:00 am–5:00 pm hours.

Using em dashes and en dashes

Em dashes and en dashes can be used in a similar way. It is true especially with formal letters, correspondence, articles, and journal abstracts. If this is the case, then the writers will find that en dashes are taking space on both sides of the sentence:

  • ✔️ Subdued, muted colors – such as greys and blacks – are perfect for the room.
  • ✔️ These actors – spoilt and not very well-behaved – are a dream to some.

The following use of the en dash is typically found in the British version of the English language. With that being said, note that the similar use of the em dash is more predominant in American English.

  • ✔️ This man—the founder of the financial empire—is known for his enthusiasm and dedication.
  • ✔️ The lady—the embodiment of elegance and manners—is not the one to ask around.

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