What are Dashes?
Dashes are horizontal lines used to indicate a pause or range in the middle of a line of text. They are different from underscores that float at the bottom of texts. In contrast to a hyphen, dashes are not used to separate parts but groups of words. Dashes include the en, em and the double hyphen. However, the em(—) and en (–) dashes are most commonly used. Apart from the difference in length, these dashes also serve different purposes within a sentence.
There are times you might not want to use other punctuation, especially when they would seem awkward. Em Dashes can be a goldmine in such scenarios. For example, they can be used in a parenthetical phrase with multiple commas.
After evaluating his options, the midfielder passed to the striker (or, rather, passed to him).
After evaluating his options, the midfielder passed to the striker - or, rather, passed to him.
While colons give a formal tone to your writing, em dashes are more casual but more emphatic. So, for a friendlier, emphatic tone, em dashes always save the day.
In the following sentence, it's easy to see that the second sentence is more emphatic than the first.
She loves two things: reading and writing.
She loves two things—reading and writing.
Em dashes can also be used to replace intentionally omitted, unknown or censored letters within a sentence. They appear in pairs or threesomes when used this way. Here's an example:
Aggrieved employees of the company, ———, have filed a lawsuit against the CEO.
Inscribed on the wall is: "There are bigger ro——rs in politics than there are con artists."
Although similar to em dashes, en dashes are slightly shorter and work differently.
Using the En Dash to Indicate Spans of Time or Ranges of Numbers
En dashes are commonly used to indicate ranges of numbers or spans of times. In such cases, they are considered to mean "through" or "either." Let's consider the following examples.
Pages 56 – 78 of the course material will likely form the bulk of tomorrow's test.
He works from 1:00– 7:00 am on the night shift.
His business dominated the niche from 2010–2015.
Using the En Dash to Denote a Connection
In other cases, en dashes are used to show a connection between words. For example, when two-word phrases modify a noun. In this case, the en dash ultimately creates a compound adjective from the base words.
Here's the award-winning motivational speaker.
They may also be used to connect already hyphenated terms as shown below;
Pre-planned–pro-vaccine measures have been very effective against major life-threatening diseases.