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Dashes are like little actors—they can behave like colons, pairs of commas, or parentheses.  Learn how to use them in this video!

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hey, grammarians, hey, Paige. - [Voiceover] Hi, David. - [Voiceover] Today we're gonna talk about dashes which is a piece of punctuation, looks kind of like this, shoop. It's just kind of a straight line. Later we're gonna talk about hyphens, which look like this, shoop. And there is a difference between the two of them, it's kind of confusing, but first we're just gonna talk about dashes, what they are, what they do. - [Voiceover] Okay, sounds good to me. - [Voiceover] So, dashes have approximately four uses. Use number one is that they can mark interruptions in the structure of a sentence, as in, "I ran to the bus stop--but the bus "had already driven away." So we're using this dash to interrupt the structure of this sentence. - [Voiceover] Okay, but couldn't you just put a comma there? - [Voiceover] You know, you're totally could, you absolutely could use a comma instead of a dash. But the dash has this feeling. And I'm gonna make up a word here, it feels more interrupty. - [Voiceover] Okay, right, so a comma sort of helps the sentence keep flowing and the dash kind of stops it for a second. - [Voiceover] And even though, grammatically, those two sentences are identical, right, "I ran to the bus stop, comma, "but the bus had already driven away." Even though that's, technically, that means the exact same thing, "As I ran to the bus stop, dash, "but the bus had already driven away." This is kind of like an abrupt cutoff. So, like the comma, right, the dash is uniting these two independent clauses. "I ran to the bus stop, the bus had already driven away." Right, so, like, you know, comma, but we connect those two independent clauses the same way the dash but is connecting those two clauses. But it has a slightly different connotation. It's just more abrupt in the way that it connects these two things together. - [Voiceover] Okay. Also, it looks like you don't have a space before or after your dash, is that right? - [Voiceover] Right. So, originally when I drawn it, it did look a lot closer. But, yes, according to to the Chicago Manual of Style that Khan Academy uses, it would just go word, dash, word, then a space. But when you're using dashes, generally, you don't put spaces in between them, in between words. - [Voiceover] Right. - [Voiceover] So that's use number one, it can interrupt the structure of a sentence. Use number two for the dash is that they can act like parentheses in pairs. - [Voiceover] So the dash is in the same place as another type of punctuation could be again? - [Voiceover] Correct. - [Voiceover] Okay. - [Voiceover] The dash, I guess, is kind of like, so let's look at another example sentence. And I'll switch colors. "The bug--which landed on my nose--had to be the size "of a softball." Enormous bug. But, Paige, as you rightly pointed out, you know, this is the same as having it in parentheses. You wouldn't have both of these together like that. - [Voiceover] But they do the same thing. - [Voiceover] Yeah, they have the exact same function. - [Voiceover] In this case. - [Voiceover] In this case. So when you have them in pairs like so, it's "The bug--which landed on my nose--had to be the size "of a softball." So it's kind of this aside. If we really wanted to, we could take it right out of the sentence, kind of like an appositive, right, with commas. So we could say, "The bug had to be the size of a softball." Sentence still makes sense. - [Voiceover] Right. - [Voiceover] Use number three. A dash can be used where you would otherwise use a colon. - [Voiceover] So, in this case, it's gonna be sort of introducing something, right? - [Voiceover] Mm-hmm. So the colon has this linking power, right, it can introduce ideas, it can start a list, you can do the same thing with a dash. So, for example, if you wanted to introduce an idea, we could say. - [Voiceover] I have only ever wanted one thing--snacks. - [Voiceover] Me, too, Paige. - [Voiceover] So many snacks. - [Voiceover] Me, too. So, right. So we're using this to introduce this idea the same way that we would had it then a colon. - [Voiceover] Okay. So the dash is like a little actor. - [Voiceover] Yeah! - [Voiceover] Yeah, the dash is like an actor that can use like do the jobs of all these other punctuation marks. - [Voiceover] Right. - [Voiceover] So it can be parentheses, it can be a colon, it can be like a comma sometimes. - [Voiceover] Wow! - [Voiceover] That is a talented little guy. - [Voiceover] Seriously, I'm very impressed. - [Voiceover] And the fourth use of the dash is, again, to indicate interruptions, but specifically to indicate interruptions in speech. - [Voiceover] This is like its own little special thing. - [Voiceover] Yeah. - [Voiceover] It's not acting like anything else? - [Voiceover] Nope. - [Voiceover] Just indicating an interruption. Yes, it does. "Watch out for that--" - [Voiceover] Wham. So we're using this dash to say that this sentence was interrupted by something, and then, you know, we deploy the sound effect. But it could be anything, really. So if you're trying to write down dialogue that is being cutoff by something, by another person interrupting, by an avalanche of ice cream, I don't know, whatever it is, then you would use a dash at the end of the sentence. So, no space. So we'd go, that, dash, quotation marks. And you wouldn't have to do any kind of terminal punctuation, no need for a period or a question mark or an exclamation point. The dash kind of serves that role, because it's a very fancy actor. So I wouldn't say that the dash as an actor can perform the same roles as terminal punctuation, as periods or question marks or exclamation points, but rather I would say that it is cutting off the sentence before we can even get to where those would live. - [Voiceover] Okay, yeah, it's saying there would've been more words in this sentence and then terminal punctuation, but. - [Voiceover] So that's what dashes can do. They are used to mark interruptions in the structure of a sentence, like, "I ran to the bus stop--but the bus "had already driven away." - [Voiceover] They can act like parentheses when they're used in pairs, so like, "The bug--which landed on my nose--had to be the size "of a softball." - [Voiceover] You can use them like a colon to lead into lists or to link an idea. So, "I have only ever wanted one thing--snacks." - [Voiceover] And they can indicate interruptions in speech, like, "Watch out for that--" - [Voiceover] Wham. - [Voiceover] That was good. - [Voiceover] Thanks. And those are the functions of the dash. - [Voiceover] You got it. - [Voiceover] You can learn anything. David out. - [Voiceover] Paige out.