Parentheses Vs. Dashes: A Basic Guide

Parentheses and dashes are used to demonstrate that a piece…

Parentheses and dashes are used to demonstrate that a piece of information is nonessential or supplementary to the main idea. When you need to provide additional information about a previous statement, these punctuations come to play. This article looks at Parentheses vs. Dashes and how to utilize them in writing.

Parentheses: An Overview

Parentheses () are paired punctuation marks that are commonly used to add an explanatory note to an expression, sentence, or paragraph. They can also set off lists or a sentence with two elements that need particular emphasis.

Parentheses are used to enclose clarifying and additional information about a sentence. They occur in pairs and should not be used singly. Parentheses appear across all writing genres but should be used sparingly in formal writing.

Uses of Parentheses

The most apparent use of the parentheses is to provide extra information about a statement, word, or phrase. However, there are several other uses.

1. To provide additional information

Parentheses are valuable in providing extra information about a preceding word, phrase, or whole sentence. It is essential to take caution when introducing a piece of information within the sentence, so it doesn’t alter its meaning.

The information provided in parentheses is usually nonessential and doesn’t affect the sentence’s clarity or purpose when omitted.


  • Nathan’s twin (Michael) is kind.
  • You left your jacket (the blue one) in my car.
  • Allison is a brilliant (and smart) student.

2. To include citations

Citations provide facts and information about book or article sources and are placed in parentheses. For example:

  • Education empowers individuals to make better life decisions (Raphael and Steve, 2006).
  • Williams (2002) described philosophy as…
  • The green sea turtle lives on and around Turtle Island, a Caribbean chain of islands in the Atlantic Ocean (Wikipedia).

Similarly, academic writings indicate charts, illustrations, and charts in parentheses to direct a reader. For example.

  • In 2003, school dropouts drastically decreased by 50 percent (See Table 2).
  • There has been a steady decline in the number of students dropping out of school ever since 2006 (See Chart 10).

3. Acronyms and abbreviations.

Parentheses are used to provide the meanings of abbreviations or acronyms introduced in writing.

  • The present administration of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has recorded an enormous milestone.
  • World Health Day is held on April 7 every year to mark the founding of WHO (World Health Organization).

4. Lettered or Numbered lists.

Letters and numbers used to separate a list to make comprehension easier are placed in parentheses.

  • You are required to bring three things to the examination venue: (1) a pencil, (2) a sheet of paper (3) a pen.
  • Take note of the following when writing your essay: (a) punctuate correctly, (b) use the proper tenses (c) check for spelling errors.

Dashes: When to Use

The dash— signals an interruption, a pause, or a slight break in a sentence. It draws attention and adds emphasis to a sentence. When using dashes in writing, no space should be left on either side of the punctuation.

Commonly used in fiction and casual writing, the overuse of dashes provides an impression of hastiness and carelessness. Sometimes, two dashes are required; before and after the word/phrase introduced.

Dashes can be used to introduce an explanation or restatement in place of expressions such as, in other words, namely. The clause after the dash must begin with a lowercase letter.


  • Michael patiently waited for the grammar teacher—he was determined to get his assignment marked.
  • The models bowed—except for their leader—amidst the cheers.
  • They bought several items at the fair—clothes, jewelry, and shoes.
  • The three most influential people in my life—my wife, daughter, and grandma—are my biggest cheerleaders.

Parentheses vs. Dashes

Parentheses and dashes are essential punctuation marks in English. Dashes signal an interruption or pause that draws attention and emphasizes a part of the sentence.

Parentheses provide extra information on a point. Both punctuations are essential for introducing clarifying information into sentences.

While parentheses are proper for formal writing, dashes are less formal and appropriate for informal writing. In some cases, a pair of dashes can replace a pair of parentheses.

However, punctuation marks should be omitted when using dashes in place of parentheses. A tip to note when using both punctuations is this: the original sentence should still convey the intended meaning without them.

person holding on red pen while writing on book
Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

To Wrap Up

Parentheses and dashes are key punctuation marks used in writing to clarify and add additional information. When used judiciously, they serve as great tools for providing emphasis and clarifying sentences.

However, take caution when using them. Overuse will result in sloppy writing, which can be hard to understand.

Frequently asked questions

What are the 3 types of dashes?

Three different types of dashes exist: the em-dash, the en-dish, and the 3-em dash. Em-dash can replace parentheses, colons, and commas.

How do you avoid parentheses?

Parentheses are so jarring, and should never be used where possible. If a parenthetical note is removed, it should not be in parentheses. If the material inside is not a sentence (such as this fragment), put a period outside it.

How do you use a dash in academic writing?

  • Prophecies are punctuation marks that link multiple words.
  • The hyphen is used for linking words together to avoid confusion.
  • If two or more words act as one adjective before a noun, use a hyphen.
  • In Hyphenate, 21 to 99 (twenty-one, ninety-nine) are highlighted.

How do you use a dash in a sentence?

A dash may be used to replace a colon that provides more information about something previously mentioned in the sentence. For example, she asked her students to work hard. One thing was a requirement from her students: effort.

Can you use dashes like parentheses?

It is common for dashes to be used in place of commas or parentheses to emphasize or draw attention to parenthetical or amplifying materials.

How do you use dashes correctly?

  • To set off content to emphasize. As opposed to parentheses, dashes exist.
  • Providing sentence introductions or conclusions.
  • To mark “bonus phrases.” Phrases that add information or clarify but are not necessary to the meaning of a sentence are normally set off by commas.
  • Dialogue is broken up.

What is the difference between brackets dashes and commas?

When you want your writing to sound more chatty and informal, use dashes. If your writing is more formal and you haven’t already used lots of commas in your sentence, – adding a parenthesis with even more commata could make your sentence look messy!

Are dashes grammatically correct?

This is more than a hyphen and is typically used to indicate a range or a break. Dashes separate groups of words, not parts of words like hyphens do.

What do dashes mean in writing?

Dash is a horizontal line that shows a pause or break in meaning, or that represents missing words or letters. Dashes are rather informal. They should be carefully used when writing. Dashes are often used informally instead of commas, colons, and brackets. The dash may or may not have any space on either side.

What is the difference between a dash and a hyphen?

Hyperhens join two or more words together, and dashes separate words into parenthetical statements. There are times when the two are confused because their looks are similar, but their usage is different. A dash has spaces on either side of the hexagonal line and a hexagonal row has spaces.

What is a dash example?

Dashes replace otherwise mandatory punctuation, such as after Iowa and 2020, in the following examples:. Ames, Iowa resident: He arrived.

What is parentheses and examples?

Parenthesis is the use of a phrase, word, or sentence you add to your writing as an extra note or an afterthought. The brackets, commas, and dashes are punctuated by it. As an example, Rockingham Rovers, which he had followed since the age of five, is his favourite team.

Should I use parentheses or a dash?

The dashes and parentheses indicate an “aside” to the point you are making in your sentence. You may think of them interchangeable, but each serves a specific purpose in your writing. It is imperative to interrupt your writing to insert an interjection or pause, while parenthesis gently add information to your point of view.

Why are dashes rather than parentheses or commas?

The dashes in this sentence set off an aside that deserves attention rather than parentheses or commas.

When should you use a dash in your writing?

A dashe is used to start off an idea or a positive within a sentence. It is a punctuation mark used to set off an idea within a sentence, and may be used alone or in pairs. Dashes interrupt a thought in a more dramatic way than phrases enclosed in commas, but are less theatrical than parentheses.

Parentheses Vs. Dashes: A Basic Guide

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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