A dash (little horizontal line) is a type of punctuation mark that floats in the middle of a text that is usually used to indicate a pause or a range. Dashes, which are usually longer than hyphens, are used to separate a group of words instead of parts of a word like a hyphen.
Like commas, colons, semicolons, parentheses, and ellipses, dashes are used to indicate an interruption, emphasis, or an abrupt change of thought. However, an experienced writer would know that these marks cannot always be used interchangeably.
It is important to note that dashes are almost never required by the laws of punctuation and grammar. Therefore, if you overuse them, it can break up your writing flow, thereby making it slop.
Types of Dashes
There are majorly two types of dashes, and they are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). To accurately differentiate between the two types, it is easier to visualize the en dash as the length of the letter N, and the em dash as the length of the letter M. However, the difference between the two dashes is not only in the length as you will get to see as you continue to read.
En Dashes ( – )
The en dash is the length of writing the letter N. Therefore, it is slightly longer than hyphens. You can insert the en dash in Microsoft word by pressing the ctrl key plus the minus key on your keyboard. You can also insert the en dash by leaving a space before and after a hyphen.
Functions of En Dashes
En dashes are used to perform the following functions.
To Indicate Spans of Time or Ranges of Numbers
The en dash is used to indicate Spans of Time or Ranges of Numbers. In this context, it is interpreted as either “to” or “through.”
You are expected to read pages 100 – 120 before the next class
We got a message that the service will be down by 2:00 – 3:00 pm
The company’s profit was its highest in the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
To Indicate a Connection
The en dash is also used to denote a connection between two words. You can use the en dash to indicate a connection between two already hyphenated words or a two-word phrase as a modifier. However, when the en dash is used to indicate a connection, it creates a compound adjective.
Any time the pro-choice – pro-life argument ensues, it always a heated one.
The Balon d’Or – the winning footballer, will be coming to our city next week.
Em Dash (—)
When people hear dash, they mostly think of the em dash because of the length. The em dash is slightly longer than the en dash and can be written in Microsoft word by pressing ctrl + alt + minus key on your keyboard. Also, it could be inserted by insert two hyphens without space.
Functions of Em Dashes
The em dash can be used for the following functions.
To Replace Parentheses at the End of a Sentence
The em dash comes to the rescue when it would be awkward to use parenthesis at the end of the sentence or when there would be multiple commas in the parenthetical phrase. (Find out where to use parentheses)
It took him a while, but at the end of the day, he leaped for the ball—or to put it more accurately, limped for it.
Unlike parentheses that indicate that the reader should pay less emphasis on the parenthetical material, the em dash indicates that the reader should pay more attention to the material that comes after.
For an extraordinary man, he is still afraid of two things—talking to lady and height.