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Punctuation Rules: The Dash

Updated on October 20, 2009

The dash should be used to indicate a sudden change of ideas, but should be used sparingly. The dash may be used for emphasis or for visual effect.

1.       Use the dash to indicate an abrupt change of thought in a sentence or strong parenthetical expressions.


She feels – how can I say that? – like an outcast.

I was annoyed – no, shocked to be more specific – by his behavior.

2.       Use the dash to set off a summary or an afterthought that is added to a sentence.


The educational team will make an evaluation and draw up a plan – in fact, they will provide a complete special program for the child.

3.       Use the dash to emphasize a word or phrase that is repeated.


The president stated that we had one week – one week only – to make a decision.

4.       Use a dash to mark limits between dates, numbers, places, and times.


The admissions office is open 9:00 – 4:30 daily.

 Read pages 22 – 40.



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