Punctuation: the dash Mark: -- (—) The dash is used to show INTERRUPTION in a sentence DASH = INTERRUPTION Rule #1 A dash indicates a sudden break or abrupt change in the flow of a sentence. There was a fight at school today— two guys fighting over a girl they both thought was their girlfriend. In this example, the interruption comes at the end of the sentence, so one dash is needed.
Rule #1 “If you don’t listen—oh, forget it—you’ll never figure out this problem.” If the interruption comes in the middle of the sentence, a dash is used BEFORE and AFTER. Note that there is a full sentence if the interruption is removed: “If you don’t listen, you’ll never figure out this problem.”
Who likes dashes? POETS LIKE DASHES BECAUSE THEY CAN ADD TO THE MEANING OF A POEM WITHOUT ADDING ANY MORE WORDS “breathless” quality “musical” quality A way of emphasizing rhythm & structure A “jerkiness” that gives extra interest to the words In this poem, it gives the sense of the end of life, the last few ragged breaths I heard a Fly buzz (465) by Emily DickinsonEmily Dickinson I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – The Stillness in the Room Was like the Stillness in the Air – Between the Heaves of Storm The Eyes around – had wrung them dry – And Breaths were gathering firm For that last Onset – when the King Be witnessed – in the Room – I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away What portions of me be Assignable – and then it was There interposed a Fly – With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz – Between the light – and me – And then the Windows failed – and then I could not see to see –
Rule #2 A dash sets an explaining or defining phrase from the rest of a sentence. Sometimes we’ll interrupt ourselves in the middle of a sentence to add more information. This info is set off by dashes. The symptoms of the plague—vomiting, swollen glands and high fever— struck quickly and caused death within 2-3 days. Note there is a sentence without the interrupted extra information: “The symptoms of the plague struck quickly and caused death within 2-3 days.” Note what has been added explains what the symptoms of the plague are: vomiting, swollen glands, high fever The added information INTERRUPTS the flow of the sentence. Without the interruption, dashes would NOT be used. I went to school—elementary school, I mean—in Los Angeles.
Rule #3 #3. A dash marks an unfinished sentence. When we are interrupted in the middle of a sentence, it’s shown in writing by using a dash. “You never give me a chance to—” “Jim? Why, he is—” He stopped talking and went to thinking.
One dash or two? If the interruption comes in the MIDDLE of the sentence, it must be framed with dashes, so use TWO: If it doesn’t rain—a good, hard and steady rain, I mean—we will have to ration water very soon. If the interruption comes at the BEGINNING or END of the sentence, ONE dash is enough: Complaining—that’s what I hate hearing!!
The Dashing Dash-- The dash is a “hip,” edgy punctuation mark favored by poets and journalists… So versatile, it can work like colons, parentheses, commas, or semicolons! The dash can meet almost all your punctuating needs!