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Don’t be Rash—Use the Dash

June 25, 2015

by: Cramer Lewis

The dash is a handy device, informal and essentially playful, telling you that you’re about to take off on a different tack but still in some way connected with the present course — only you have to remember that the dash is there, and either put a second dash at the end of the notion to let the reader know that he’s back on course, or else end the sentence, as here, with a period. -Lewis Thomas: Essayist and Author

So—the dash has the potential to make or break your essay. It can send your meanings dashing toward your reader with heightened clarity, or it can totally muddle things up—dashing all hopes for an understandable piece of writing. Writers who can incorporate the dash appropriately enjoy a much more broad array of nuanced choices for making meaning clear. For example—using a dash instead of a comma in specific places can give a sentence a more emotive punch or intensify emphasis on certain clauses or words. Learning the different ways to use dashes can significantly diversify your stylistic choices when writing, giving your writing more clarity and style—an effective way to impress employers and professors.

Written language is not intended to eliminate the quirks of verbal communication. Different punctuation devices actually help us to communicate with readers exactly how the writing should sound in their heads or aloud. The dash functions as another tool for injecting written lines with specific feelings.

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Though grammar rules almost never require the usage of dashes, they serve to give writers a bit more control. While reading different authors can help expand a working knowledge of some different tricks to play with dashes, a condensed summary of their uses include functions of emphasis, the setting off of extra clauses, and generating snappy introductory or conclusive phrases in sentences.


  • The horns, they’re blowing that sound way on down south—London town.

Extra clauses:

  • The filmmaker Stanley Kubrick—critically acclaimed for his visual creativity—adapted all of his screenplays from novels he liked.

Introductions and Conclusions:

  • Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with string—these are a few of my favorite things.
  • That there are no facts, only interpretations—this is Nietzsche’s conclusion.

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We can almost think of dashes as reverse parenthesis—calling attention to the clause within instead of diverting attention from it. Dashes can add a certain amount of drama to your writing as well as help make it sound more conversational without taking away from the academic validity. Dashes are practical and fun tools to expand your creative options. Don’t be afraid to try them out here and there. Just remember not to overuse them—like they have been in this article—because you can diminish their effectiveness. Dash away all!

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