Dash - Definition, Types, Uses with Examples

Dash – Definition, Types, Uses with Examples

Welcome to yet another post on the Dash, one of the punctuation marks in English. This post titled Dash – Definition, Types, Uses with Examples focuses on the Dash, it types and its uses with examples.

Dash – Definition, Types, Uses with Examples

Let us begin by attempting a definition or description of this punctuation mark; then we will look at it types and uses with illustrations.

Dash: A Description

The dash lends itself to a description much more than a definition. Dash is a short horizontal line (-) that we use often in place of a comma or colon, or as a sign that a letter or word has been omitted. In other words, we can say a dash is used singly in place of a colon, especially to indicate a sudden change of subject or grammatical anacoluthon, or in pairs to enclose a parenthetical remark.

Cheryl Iverson has this to say about the dash: “Dashes as another form of internal punctuation convey a particular meaning or emphasize and clarify a certain section of material within a sentence. Compared with parentheses, dashes may convey a less formal or more emphatic “aside.””

Anacoluthon has to do with a construction that involves the change from one grammatical sequence to another within a single sentence; an example of anacoluthia is found in William Shakespeare’s King Lear

I will have such revenges on you both,
That all the world shall—I will do such things,
What they are, yet I know not…

The mark, dash, usually stresses the items or materials that follow it.

Types of Dashes

Iverson opines that there are four types of dashes which she listed as:

  • the em dash (the most common)
  • the en dash
  • the 2-em dash
  • the 3-em dash.

However, there are two common types of dashes. They are the:

 En or n-dash

This type of dash is longer than a hyphen (see Hyphen) but shorter than an m-dash. The symbol or mark (–) is a n-dash. This short dash, en dash, usually has a space on either side.

  • We planned to buy two packets of sugar – but the cashier made us buy four because of her amiability.

 Em or m-dash

This type of dash is way longer than an n-dash.  The symbol or the mark (—) is an m-dash. When the longer em dash is used, there is usually no spaces on either side. See these examples:

  • He would not tolerate that—Not at all!
  • He sold the house—his father’s house.
  • We ate chicken laps—tasty lunch indeed.
  • Unemployment in the town has fallen to 3000a drop of almost 20 percent.

We can also use an em dash in place of omitted letters. For instance, to avoid mentioning a person’s full name:

  • J- accused Ms. D- of lying.
  • The Council suspended Prof. M- from the university.

Having looked at the types of dashes, let us proceed to see some of the uses of the dash…

Uses of the Dash

We use the dash as follows:

To Mark a break in thought or the sense in an expression.

Dashes emphasise parenthetical thoughts and convey sudden interruptions in thought. For instance:

  • He was – pardon its belatedness – going to invite you to his wedding.
  • What will you – take note of his expression – do if you become the president?
  • I wish to inform us – please pardon me – that we shall skip breakfast this morning.
  • She is very much at home – as you can see – with children.
  • I was told he barged into – forgive his manners please – your bathroom last night.

To Separate Parenthesis

Dashes are used in pairs around text that adds extra information and can be omitted without affecting the structure of the sentence; that is, a dash separates a parenthesis as we have in the following instances:

  • The boy – all by himself – decided to visit the movie theatre.
  • When he came home – from a hectic day at the office – he went straight to bed.
  • Many politicians – especially in Nigeria – believe in vote buying.
  • He drives to Arlington and back – a round trip of 600 miles – at least once a week.

For sentences such as above, we can use commas and parentheses for the same purpose. This is often preferable in formal contexts but dashes (used sparingly) are a stronger means of separating; and they have the effect of drawing attention to the extra information that has been provided.

We use Dash to Repeat a Word or Phrase

See the example below:

  • When she got back from her long trip, cockroaches have infested everywhere – cockroaches in the toilet, cockroaches in the bathroom, cockroaches in the kitchen.

A Dash Instead of a Colon

Another instance of the use of a dash occurs when there is a need to introduce something. We can use a dash instead of a colon to introduce something that explains or elaborates on what has gone before. For example:

  • Unemployment in the town has fallen to 3000 – a drop of almost 20 percent.
  • Heaps of refuse dot the landscape of the town – a thing of concern to all.
  • The police have come to raid the district again – a regular occurrence.


I am certain you have gained some useful insights in this post Dash – Definition, Types, Uses with Examples. You can check out other punctuation marks that I have also put together for your reading pleasure. Do not forget to share this knowledge and connect with us on our Social Media platforms. It is just a click away. See you around.

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