My Election 2012 Candidate: The Dash -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

My Election 2012 Candidate: The Dash

1 comment

By Julia Cox, Writing Consultant

Perhaps it’s because my high school English teacher detested them, but I have been in a love affair with the dash for close to a decade now.

Besides being my favorite grammatical character, the dash is the underdog of the punctuation realm. As dashes are appropriate in only a limited number of APA contexts, they are definitely less prevalent than perfunctory marks such as the colon and comma.

According to APA style, writers should use dashes in pairs, to separate extra information that interrupts a complete sentence. Dashes help the detail phrase stand out and prevent the information from getting lost in the sentence.

When used correctly, the dash is nothing but dazzling.

Using a dash is a crisp way to build detail and suspense into your sentence, like the way theme music functions in a film. Try to imagine Jaws without the gothic crescendo or Titanic without the brooding flute refrain. While the stories would be complete without these elements, they just wouldn’t be the same. Dashes function likewise, to add personality and backdrop to an already intact sentence.

For example, here is a sentence that uses commas:

The chocolates, the ones with creamy, decadent caramel centers, were placed on our pillows at the hotel.

Now examine the same sentence with dashes:

The chocolates—the ones with creamy, decadent caramel centers—were placed on our pillows at the hotel.

While the first sentence is technically correct, the second has far more power.  The creamy, decadent centers get lost in the shuffle of the first sentence, while in the second, they sing.

Note that in the example sentence, the phrase set off by dashes only really delivers nonessential detail (we would still know where the chocolates were placed without it), yet adds a welcome level of specificity to the sentence.

*A quick formatting note: Do not confuse a dash with a hyphen. A hyphen (-) is approximately one-third the length of a dash (—) and has a different grammatical function.*

For more information on the dash, you can refer to section 4.06 of your APA manual. 

1 comment :

  1. I too love the dash Julia, but I prefer the en-dash to the em-dash that you used. It can be quite confusing, but the dash hyphen guide explains it quite well. Especially how to make the bloomin things on a normal keyboard.