Dear Master’s student,
Welcome back from Spring Recess! If you missed it, the last tip was on the hyphen; this week, we’re moving on to its cousin, the dash!
(If you’re a big punctuation wonk, you can read about the difference between the en dash and em dash.) On traditional keyboards, there is actually no designated key for the dash. (This is probably one reason people aren’t sure what a dash is, or how to use one.) Never fear! If you use Word as your word processing software, creating a dash is pretty simple:
- Type the word before the dash (do not hit “spacebar” after the word).
- Hit the hyphen (-) key twice (do not hit “spacebar” after the hyphens).
- Type the word after the dash.
- Voilà! Once you hit “spacebar” after the post-dash word, Word will fuse the hyphens into one big dash.
If you’ve never done this before, try it out! There’s nothing like the thrill of seeing your first dash born of two tiny hyphens.
The dash can be used as commas would be around a phrase to which you want to draw attention:
Barkley—the only person I know to complete all the levels of Ninja Warrior—will join us for dinner.
You could also render this with commas or parenthesis:
Barkley, the only person I know to complete all the levels of Ninja Warrior, will join us for dinner.
Barkley (the only person I know to complete all the levels of Ninja Warrior) will join us for dinner.
All three versions mean the same thing, but there is an implied difference in the importance of that phrase surrounded by the dashes/commas/parenthesis. The dash is used to emphasize the information; it indicates the phrase it bookends is more important than the rest of the sentence. Conversely, parentheses typically suggest that something is less important than the rest of the sentence; commas are generally used for information of equal importance.
I hope this tip has been an informative—and enjoyable—read.