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Grammar Tips & Tidbits

 

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The Versatile Dash

Most of us were taught not to overuse dashes, which apparently scared many people away from using them at all. There are others who continually disregard the advice of their high school teachers and use dashes to the exclusion of almost all other marks of punctuation. You'll be glad to know that there's a happy medium between the two extremes.

Dashes are quite versatile, which explains why they're so prone to overuse. But a well-placed dash can make a sentence much more powerful, so it's a handy punctuation mark to keep in your back pocket.

These are some examples of the many ways that dashes can be used. The following are based on guidelines given in the tenth edition of The Gregg Reference Manual
Example sentences are original content provided by Accu-Assist.

Dashes can be used...

 

1) In Place of Commas
All three sisters―Renee, Marie, and Rachelle―have blond hair.
 
2) In Place of a Semicolon
He gets up at the crack of dawnshe is an incurable night owl.
 
3) In Place of a Colon
I agreed to bring three things to the party―chips, dip, and soda.
 
4) In Place of Parentheses
He arrived late for work this morning―two hours late!―and then he left early.
 
5) To Emphasize Single Words
There was only one thing he was thinking about at that moment―sleeping.
 
6) To Indicate an Abrupt Break
I asked you to―  Never mind. There's no point in repeating myself.
 
7) With Repetitions
I consider this a privilege―a privilege I won't take for granted.
 

The great thing about dashes is that they're difficult to use incorrectly! This doesn't mean you should go around using them willy-nilly, however. Reserve them for special occasions when you want to provide emphasis to a word or phrase.

Important Tips:
 

A hyphen and a dash are not the same thing!
To insert a proper dash in most word processing programs, simply type a word, press the hyphen key twice, and then type another word. As soon as you hit the space bar, your program should convert the two hyphens into a dash automatically. Go ahead―try it!
If the program you're using doesn't allow you to insert a dash this way, use two hyphens instead--like this.
Spaces aren't needed on either side of a dash, unless you're using the dash to indicate an abrupt break as shown in example #6 above.

 

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Source:

1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. 10th ed.
        (New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005), 55-59.