Dashes are used frequently in writing for various uses. Like other punctuation marks, they are grammatical aids that make documents easier to understand. They draw the readers’ attention to the different parts of a text to improve the breakdown of ideas throughout the document.1
Dashes are little horizontal lines that float mid-line in a text. A dash is visually similar to an underscore (_), but underscores are placed at the bottom of the line. A dash is used to separate a group of words, like commas, to break down the text into two parts. They can be used to mark additional information in a sentence, for example:2
Although dashes can be used in different parts of a text body, there are some common mistakes you should avoid. For example:
x You should not use a dash with a comma.
x A common grammatical error is a failure to correctly space words before or after dashes.
x Incorrect spacing of the first dash has resulted in a hyphen rather than a dash. A dash is similar to a hyphen, but a hyphen is shorter and is used to space words.3
Dashes: Em Dash vs. En Dash
There are two styles of the dash; the em dash and the en dash.
The em dash (—)
The em dash is approximately as long as the letter m and is longer than the en dash. Em dashes often highlight extra information that is not important to comprehend the sentence. For this function, parentheses and commas can also be used.
It is generally acceptable to write an em dash without spaces on either side though some style instructions may require spaces. However, ensure your spacing is consistent throughout your work.
An Em dash can also be used to illustrate censored or redacted information. Some quoted documents may also have missing parts, and the em dash is used to represent the missing information.
The en dash (–)
The en dash is slightly shorter than the em dash, approximately the same length as the letter n. En dashes are used to show a range or a specific period. They can be used in place of “to” or “through” in a defined class.4
An en dash can also connect two words in a phrase.
Note that in cases where a range is denoted by the phrases “from…. to…” and “between….and…”, retain the “and” phrase rather than introducing an en dash.
Ways to put dashes in your writing
Dashes are used in academic writing in several instances, which include:
To set off material for emphasis
To introduce a brief list within a sentence
To define a word
To mark a change in tone
A dash is mainly used to introduce more information in a sentence. Most of the time, they highlight extra information that is not crucial to understanding the main sentence’s gist.
A dash is commonly used to alert a reader to extra information in a sentence. A hyphen is shorter and is used to separate words in compound word structures.
An em dash is as long as the letter m and is used to show the beginning of the extra part of a sentence. The en dash is the same length as the letter n and is used in writing to show a range of numbers.
No, you cannot. It is grammatically wrong to use any type of dash with commas as it creates redundancy in your punctuation.
1 Harward, Barnaby. “Common Mistakes in Business English.” HarwardCommunications. September 07, 2017. https://blog.harwardcommunications.com/2017/09/07/how-to-use-hyphens-and-dashes/.
2 Nordquist, Richard. “How to Use a Dash.” Thought Co.. May 30, 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-dash-in-punctuation-1690416.
3 S, Danielle. “The Em Dash, The En Dash, and The Hyphen: You’re Doing it Wrong.” Writers Access. Accessed September 01, 2022, https://www.writeraccess.com/blog/em-dash-en-dash-hyphen/.
4 The Punctuation Guide. “En dash.” Accessed September 01, 2022. https://www.thepunctuationguide.com/en-dash.html.
5 Moxley, Joseph M. “Dashes.” Writing Commons Accessed September 01, 2022, https://writingcommons.org/section/grammar/mechanics/punctuation/dashes/.