Using Dashes

What is a dash?

A dash a mechanical tool used to separate elements of a sentence. Though it is quite similar to a comma, it is more informal and emphatic and thus should be used with caution in formal writing.

A dash is used to…

Emphasize parenthetical material
 
Parenthetical material is extra information about a noun that may make the sentence more clear, but is unnecessary for the meaning of the sentence. Using commas or parentheses places less  emphasis on the material.
 
  • Workplace stress, from long hours to fear of being down-sized, is reducing the productivity of the American white-collar worker.
  • Workplace stress—from long hours to fear of being down-sized—is reducing the productivity of the American white-collar worker.
Set off appositives
 
An appositive is extra information about a noun that renames the noun in order to make the sentence more clear. Using commas or parentheses places less emphasis on the material.
 
  • China, the most densely populated nation on earth, has only about two percent of the land suitable for agriculture in the world.
  • China—the most densely populated nation on earth—has only about two percent of the land suitable for agriculture in the world.

*Especially appositives that contain commas     

Using commas changes the meaning of the sentence. 
 
  • Her musical talent, genius is perhaps a more accurate word, is  wasted by simply teaching and never performing.
  • Her musical talent—genius is perhaps a more accurate word—is wasted by simply teaching and never performing.
Indicate a change in thought, tone, or feeling
 
Using commas changes the meaning of the sentence and does not indicate any change.
 
  • The naval tour included four ships, two destroyers, an aircraft carrier, and a submarine.
  • The naval tour included four ships—two destroyers, an aircraft carrier, and a submarine.

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Document URL:

https://www-s3-live.kent.edu/s3fs-root/s3fs-public/file/dashes.pdf