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  Tips for Writers by Brad Hyde (April 4, 2006)
 


The Dash: A Handy Mark

 

 

 

You can use the dash (—) in two ways—to set off words that interrupt the main thought or as a way to introduce information (meaning "in other words" or "that is." Note how the second use of a dash is very close to a colon, but less formal).

In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White advise us to, "Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption, and to announce a long appositive or summary." Further they say that a "dash is a mark of separation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parentheses."

*To make a dash with Word, hold down the "Alt" key and then type 0151 on your number pad; sometimes putting in two hyphens makes a dash automatically as well.

Examples:

The bicyclist whooshed by me—I saw his bike just in time—and disappeared down the street.

One thing I can tell you about grammar—the dash is a handy mark!

His most common way to learn English—if it could be called a way to learn—was to spend hours working with an electronic translation dictionary. (as an abrupt break; parentheses could also be used)

The windshield wipers began to make a noise—a squeaking racket that set his teeth on edge. (as an informal colon; note that a comma would serve as well in this case)

 

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