I will be the first to admit that using “dashes” in writing scares me. There is constant uncertainty about whether to use an em dash, and en dash or a hyphen. More often than not, I simply rework the sentence so that I can skip the stress altogether.
Dashes were stressful. Until today.
After research and practice, I have finally deciphered the elusive dash.
The em dash, the longest of the marks, is extremely versatile. It can be used to replace commas, parenthesis, or colons and can even be used to indicate redacted or unknown letters from words to sensor explicit language or protect someone’s identity.
The following sentences demonstrate a few of the many uses of the em dash:
When my food arrived at the table —nearly 40 minutes later—I was no longer hungry.
“Holy s—!” she exclaimed.
Shorter in length than its em dash counterpart, the en dash is dictated by a different set of rules. En dashes are used to show a range of numbers, indicate the score of a sporting event, denote connections or conflict, and form compound adjectives.
The following sentences demonstrate a few of the many uses of the en dash:
We will be seniors during the 2016-2017 academic year.
Last night, the Angels beat the Dodgers 4-3.
The Clinton-Trump election will be the most polarizing election of our lifetime.
He was a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist.
Though the distinction between the lengths of a particular punctuation mark may seem trivial, correctly using a convention that is often misused will set your written content apart from competitors. Grammar is not glamorous, but successful usage of obscure rules will allow you to stand out to someone with a keen eye.
I did my research, and now I’m ready to dare to dash.