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Use Dashes
  • (Rule 1) to interrupt a sentence.
  • (Rule 2) to emphasize parenthetical or explanatory information.


Use a dash to interrupt the normal word order of a sentence.

If you are interested in martial arts—and who wouldn’t be interested in such a disciplined art?—there are many centers for instruction.

The dashes in this example allow you to break into the sentence in an informal way. Here is another example:

I was unable—unwilling, really—to head up the new committee at the office.

Check your work
Although commas may be used to set off phrases that interrupt a sentence, dashes add emphasis to the clause that is set off. In addition, dashes set an informal tone in your writing. Because of their informality, dashes should be used sparingly, if ever, in graduate writing. When you do choose to use dashes, you may include question marks and exclamation points in the clauses that are set off by dashes (as in the first example above).


Use dashes to set off parenthetical or explanatory information.

The editor of the Banner Herald often employs hyperbole—deliberate exaggeration or overstatement to show special emphasis or create humor—to express his political views.

Here dashes set apart the definition of hyperbole. Though not necessary to the meaning of the sentence, the definition adds useful information. Again, dashes are an informal way of setting off information; a comma would serve the same purpose here.

Check your work
Review each sentence in your writing and identify any information that is parenthetical or that explains a topic in the sentence. You may set this information off with dashes. Remember, though, that dashes should seldom be used in formal writing. In formal writing, you should use commas to set off these elements from the rest of the sentence.

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