When to Use a Dash in a Sentence

There are two main functions for the dash in standard English. They can either be a substitute for commas in order to separate a section of the sentence or to indicate a pause. Here are some examples that highlight both uses of the dash. “My two friends — Jimmy and Sarah — recently went on a date.” The dashes are used to display the extra information of the friends’ names, even though they were not needed. “Well, I think it’s better if — no you’re right.” In this example, the dashes are used to represent a pause when the speaker is having a change of opinion.



Dashes have two main functions. 1. They can be used in place of commas in order to set off a certain part of the sentence. 2. They can be used to show a pause in a quotation. Let’s take a look at the first use. Two states on the west coast – Washington and Oregon – have amazing weather.

Right here, Washington and Oregon could be omitted from the sentence. Try reading the sentence without Washington and Oregon in the sentence. Two states on the west coast have amazing weather. That sentence still makes perfect sense, so Washington and Oregon are just extra information. So what’s one way you can head off additional information?

Through the use of commas. We could just put a comma right here after “coast” and a comma right here after “Oregon.” In this case, the writer chose to use two dashes. Here, the sentence reads, “Two states on the west coast – Washington and Oregon – have amazing weather.” Here, you pause where the dashes are, just like you would pause when you see a comma. Pause where the dashes are.

“Two states on the west coast *pause* Washington and Oregon *pause* have amazing weather.” That’s one way to use dashes, just to set a certain part off of the sentence from the rest of the sentence. Dashes can be used to show a pause in a quotation. Like right here: “Go to the left- turn right!” Right here, the speaker is telling the driver to go to the left, then they pause for a second and realize that they actually need to go to the right.

They’re saying, “Turn right.” The dash right here is showing that the speaker thought for a minute. Otherwise, the sentence wouldn’t make sense without the dash. The sentence would just read, “Go to the left turn right.” The dash is needed here to show the reader that the speaker paused, thought about it, and then changed their mind.

A dash can also be used at the end of the sentence if a speaker suddenly stops what they’re saying. It could be like: I was headed this way (there’s a dash, and then it could be) Jim froze in fear when he saw the bear. Dashes can also be used at the end of a quotation. Just remember the two main ways that dashes can be used. Dashes aren’t used very often, so use them sparingly and only when needed.

Provided by: Mometrix Test Preparation

Last updated: 07/10/2018


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