Note:  Two different dash sizes can be made with a keyboard by using the “Alt” key:  Alt + 0151 makes a long “em” dash (), and Alt + 0150 makes a short “en” dash ().
  1. Use the dash ( or --) to indicate a sudden change in thought or tone or faltering speech in a sentence.
    • My friends Don and Elaine—they are a really fun couple—will be arriving this afternoon.
    • Give me the password—can you do that?—so that I can upload some files.
    • She discovered that the cat was not upset—it purred.
    • You see—you see why I said that?

  2. Use the dash to indicate a summarizing thought or an afterthought added to the end of a sentence.
    • Roy will be studying day and night during the next month for his state board exam—his final test ever.
    • All of our customers are important to us—every single one!
    • He has helped her constantly since her accident—been there for her through thick and thin.

  3. Use a dash to set off a word or phrase repeated for emphasis.
    • Carla made a mistake—one giant mistake—and lost her job because of it.
    • Can you bring me your taxes—your last year’s tax return—so that I can see what your adjusted gross income was?

  4. Use the dash to set off modifiers and other nonrestrictive elements for emphasis or, if it contains commas, for clarity.
    • Even though his boss has given him hints—telling him that his reports are sloppy and that his productivity is less than anyone else in the office—he still fails to perceive that his work performance is poor.
    • Those four candidates—Aster, Lindsay, Price, and Woodall—are incumbents.
    • The qualities that have made our country great—freedom, opportunity, and equality—gradually seem to be disappearing.

  5. Use the dash after an introductory series.
    • Red, yellow, gold, orange—the colors of the countryside in autumn made it feel like we were driving through a bowl of Fruit Loops.
    • Freedom, opportunity, and equality—the qualities that have made our country great gradually seem to be disappearing.

  6. Use the dash to announce a long appositive or summary.
    • The teenager demonstrated distinct signs of depression—withdrawal, loss of appetite, apathy, and despondency.
    • Tom knew what he needed after his mentally and emotionally stressful ordeal—a long vacation.

    1. A colon may be used instead of the dash:
      • The teenager manifested signs of depression: withdrawal, loss of appetite, apathy, and despondency.
      • Tom knew what he needed after his mentally and emotionally stressful ordeal: a long vacation.

  7. Use a dash between numbers or dates to indicate to or through.  A short “en” dash (Alt + 0150 on your numeric keyboard) is better to use, in this case.
    • In the Bible, First Corinthians 15:50–55 and First Thessalonians 4:13–18 describe the future Rapture event.
    • Abraham Lincoln was alive 1809–1865.

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