If you can’t tell from my blog posts, I like dashes—and I use them frequently. Dashes are great tools that can be used in several ways. Dashes provide a stronger pause than commas and are good to use when you really want to emphasize the material you would normally offset with commas. Consider the difference between the two sentences below:
Even Justice Scalia, one of the more conservative justices, joined the majority opinion.
Even Justice Scalia—one of the more conservative justices—joined the majority opinion.
Dashes can be used to signal that the writer is shifting tone or to contrast two ideas:
The plaintiff diligently engaged in discovery and turned over all relevant materials—the defendant, on the other hand, delayed and stalled and still has refused to produce the requested documents.
Dashes can also be used like semicolons to join independent clauses:
The defendant should not have been paroled—his psychiatrist testified that he would be a threat to society if released from prison.
Note: When you use a dash in a sentence, use an “em” dash (a dash the width of the letter “m”) by hitting the dash key twice. A hyphen, on the other hand, should be made with an “en” dash (a dash the width of the letter “n”) by hitting the dash key only once. Check out the difference between the two in this sentence:
The complaint meets the notice pleading requirements—it is a well-pleaded complaint.