P7: Incorporating Dashes and Parentheses


  1. Learn the various uses for dashes.
  2. Learn the various uses for parentheses.
  3. Learn how to punctuate dashes and parentheses.

Dashes and parentheses are both used to give more importance to a word or group of words. The information enclosed by dashes and parentheses often supports the information directly before or after it.

Using Dashes

Dashes separate emphasis-adding text from the rest of the words in a sentence. You can use one long dash to set apart text at the end of a sentence. You can use dashes before and after the text to set it apart in the middle of a sentence. Here are some uses for dashes:

  • Creating a sudden change in tone, thought, or ideas
    • Example: We had predicted that the storm would come soonbut not this soon!
  • To show emphasis
    • Example: The bookif one can call it thatreceived mediocre reviews.
  • Suggesting hesitation in dialogue
    • Example: The old lady said to the man working the register, “I’ve got an extra nickel for the little girl’s candythat is, if she’ll take it.”
  • Providing a summary, an explanation, or an example
    • Example: The book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is narrated by Scout Fincha character who has much in common with the tomboy childhood of the author, Harper Lee.

For more illustrations about the use of dashes, watch this video from Khan Academy:

“Dashes.” Published by Khan Academy.

Using Parentheses

Dashes and parentheses have similar purposesto set apart information—but where dashes emphasize, parentheses downplay. Parentheses allow you to interrupt the flow of your text to give additional information. They can be used in the middle of a sentence or at the end. Some uses of parentheses include the following:

  • Enclosing numbers in an in-text list.
    • Example: My mother asked me to stop on the way to visit and pick a few things up at the store: (1)a half gallon of milk, (2) a dozen eggs, and (3) a loaf of bread.
  • Setting apart citation components in in-text references and in reference lists.
    • Example: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 34).
  • Separating nonessential but helpful information.
    • Example: My dog (some sort of a terrier-spaniel mix) has a unique personality.

Specific rules guide using punctuation with parentheses. End punctuation can be placed inside parentheses if the content of the parentheses is a complete sentence. If the content inside the parentheses is part of a larger sentence, the end punctuation should go outside the parentheses. If a comma is needed, it should always be placed outside the closing parenthesis. A comma should not be used immediately before an opening parenthesis, except in the case of in-text lists (e.g., “We need to (1) go to the bank, (2) buy some cereal at the store, (3) pick up the tickets, and (4) get to the party by 7:00 p.m.”

For more examples about how to use parentheses, watch the following video from Khan Academy:

“Parentheses.” Published by Khan Academy.

Adapted from  Chapter 18 “Punctuation” in Writer’s Handbook v 1.0 , used according to Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

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