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Grammar Repair Shop: Add some dashes for emphasis

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in Workplace Communication

Problem: Writers tend to either overuse dashes or avoid them.

Lesson: Dashes are best used like spices: in small amounts to add emphasis to what you're writing.

Dashes can take the place of commas or parentheses to set off part of a sentence. The difference is that they often add more emphasis than the other punctuation marks, or may indicate more informality in the writing.

Caution: To avoid overusing dashes, treat them like parentheses; use them only to open—and close—a phrase.

Example: The entire marketing department—from the manager to the assistants—worked together
to make this campaign a success.

Note: The most common dash is what is formally called the "em dash," which originally referred to a mark with the same width as a capital "M." An "en dash" is half that width—a bit longer than a hyphen—and is used to denote number ranges.   Example: The information is on pages 2–5.

Peeved by a common error? Puzzled by perplexing grammar rules? Send us an e-mail at with the subject "Grammar."

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