How to use dashes in a sentence - English Grammar - The English Digest

How to use dashes in a sentence

June 29, 2024 English Comments Off

Introduction to Dashes

How to use dashes in a sentence. In writing, punctuation plays a critical role in clarity and flow. Among the punctuation marks, dashes are versatile tools that add emphasis, clarify meaning, and create a natural pause in the text. Understanding the different types of dashes and their correct usage is essential for effective writing.

In this article, we will explore the four kinds of dashes and how to use dashes in a sentence.

Four Types of Dashes

  •  The en dash (–),
  •  The em dash (—),
  •  The swung dash (~),
  • The figure dash (-),

How to use dashes in a sentence:

How to use En Dash (–)

To Show Time Ranges

The en dash is used to indicate ranges of time, dates, or numbers.


  1. The event will take place from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM.
  2. The 2020–2021 academic year was challenging.
  3. The museum is open from Monday – Friday.
  4. The workshop runs from June 5 – June 10.
  5. The class covers pages 20 – 30 in the textbook.

To Connect Compound Adjectives

En dashes are also used to connect compound adjectives, especially when they involve multi-word elements.


  1. The New York–London flight is six hours.
  2. The Harvard–MIT collaboration has yielded significant results.
  3. The north–south divide is evident in the report.
  4. The teacher–student ratio is crucial for personalized education.
  5. The city’s east–west axis is well-planned.

To Show a Connection or Divide

En dashes can indicate a relationship or divide between entities.


  1. The pro-choice–pro-life debate is ongoing.
  2. The author–editor partnership was successful.
  3. The nurse–patient ratio impacts care quality.
  4. The father–son relationship was strained.
  5. The chef–waiter team worked seamlessly.

How to use Em Dash (—)

The Dramatic ‘Em’ Dash

Em dashes can add drama and emphasis, often replacing commas, parentheses, or colons.


  1. She finally revealed the truth—she had never left town.
  2. His secret weapon—charm—was surprisingly effective.
  3. The test results—though unexpected—were positive.
  4. Her favorite pastime—reading—occupied her evenings.
  5. The winner—against all odds—was announced.

The Interrupting ‘Em’ Dash

Em dashes are used to insert an abrupt break or interruption.


  1. I was about to leave—but then the phone rang.
  2. He was convinced—wrongly, as it turned out—that he was right.
  3. The decision—unpopular as it was—had to be made.
  4. She opened the door—and there stood her long-lost friend.
  5. The storm arrived suddenly—interrupting our picnic.

The Repeating ‘Em’ Dash

Em dashes can also be used for repeated elements within a sentence.


  1. The items needed—bread, milk, eggs—were all on sale.
  2. His skills—writing, editing, designing—were invaluable.
  3. The meeting—planning, discussing, deciding—lasted all day.
  4. Their strategy—innovative, bold, risky—paid off.
  5. The characters—hero, villain, sidekick—were well-developed.

How to use Swung Dash (~)

Swung dashes are less common but can be used for stylistic purposes, often to indicate similarity or approximation.


  1. The two solutions ~ though different ~ had the same outcome.
  2. His attitude ~ carefree ~ was admired by many.
  3. The recipe calls for ~ about ~ two cups of flour.
  4. The answer is ~ roughly ~ 42.
  5. Their methods ~ varied ~ achieved similar results.

How to use Figure Dash (‒)

Figure dashes are typically used in phone numbers or to separate figures in a series.


  1. Call me at 555‒1234 for more information.
  2. The score was 3‒2 at halftime.
  3. His identification number is 123‒45‒6789.
  4. The office hours are 9‒5, Monday to Friday.
  5. The coordinates are 37‒42N, 122‒24W.

Differences Between Dashes and Other Punctuation Marks

Understanding the differences between dashes and other punctuation marks is crucial for correct usage.

1. Hyphen (-) vs. En Dash (–):

  • Hyphen: Used for compound words (e.g., well-being).
  • En Dash: Used for ranges (e.g., 2020–2021).

2. En Dash (–) vs. Em Dash (—):

  • En Dash: Used for connections (e.g., the Paris–Berlin train).
  • Em Dash: Used for interruptions or emphasis (e.g., He loves her—truly loves her).

3. Em Dash (—) vs. Colon (:):

  • Em Dash: Adds emphasis (e.g., She had one goal—win).
  • Colon: Introduces a list (e.g., You need: eggs, milk, and flour).

4. Em Dash (—) vs. Semicolon (;):

  • Em Dash: Creates a strong break (e.g., It was cold—very cold).
  • Semicolon: Links related clauses (e.g., She studied hard; she passed).

5. Em Dash (—) vs. Comma (,):

  • Em Dash: Adds emphasis or an aside (e.g., The plan—though risky—was approved).
  • Comma: Lists items or separates clauses (e.g., She bought apples, oranges, and bananas).

Brief Guidelines for Using Dashes

Using dashes correctly enhances writing clarity and readability. Here are some guidelines for each type of dash.

1. En Dash:

  • Use for time ranges: “The course runs from September–December.”
  • Use for compound adjectives: “This is a Los Angeles–based company.”
  • Use for connections: “The doctor–patient relationship is vital.”

2. Em Dash:

  • Use for dramatic pauses: “He was the best player—undoubtedly.”
  • Use for interruptions: “I was thinking—” he paused, “—that we should leave.”
  • Use for parenthetical information: “The proposal—which was detailed—was accepted.”

3. Swung Dash:

  • Use for approximation: “The budget is ~$1,000.”
  • Use for ranges: “The success rate is 70%~80%.”

4. Figure Dash:

  • Use for phone numbers: “Call 123‒456‒7890.”
  • Use for identifiers: “The item code is 456‒78.”

Editing Tips for Dashes

When editing, ensure that dashes are used correctly and consistently. Here are some tips:

  • Check for correct usage of en and em dashes.
  • Ensure dashes are not overused.
  • Maintain consistency in dash usage throughout the text.

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