Consider this image:

an image of a black solid line, a red line of dots and a blue line with dashes and dots

Wikipedia calls the red line a "dotted line". However, the Wikipedia page is one of the search results for "dashed line". Which term would I use?

In terms of "dotted line" or "dashed line", what should I call the black line, opposed to the others? Just a "line"?

How about the blue one? Could someone please give me a hint?

  • What other resources did you check before posting your question?
    – CJ Dennis
    Apr 1, 2020 at 23:43
  • @CJDennis Would you please list some other online free references that are commonly recognized, besides Wikipedia, Cambridge Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, Collins Dictionary, VOA as I've already told you somewhere else?
    – WXJ96163
    Apr 2, 2020 at 0:41
  • There is a great meta post listing a huge number of resources you can use. Let me know if you can't find it because I don't have the link handy.
    – CJ Dennis
    Apr 2, 2020 at 0:43
  • 1
    Just to add to the answers: just "a line" would be fine for a solid line outside of the context of non-solid lines (most people would assume you're talking about a solid line if you say, for example, "draw a line"). You should probably add "solid" if there are non-solid lines you could be referring to as well (if you're, for example, talking about a specific line in a set of lines, like in the case of this question).
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 2, 2020 at 11:32

4 Answers 4


These line patterns are commonly used in statistical charts and graphs and are called:

  • solid line
  • dotted line
  • dash-dotted line

The other kind of line featuring only dashes ( - - - - - ) but not shown in your post would be a dashed line.

See source.

  • 1
    Correct. The red line is called a "dotted line" (. . . . .) and unshown is a "dashed line" (- - - - -) because one uses dots and the other uses dashes. Blue line would have an unfamiliar name to a layman, technically called a dash-dotted line (. - . - . -) Mar 31, 2020 at 22:59
  • This might be off-topic , but actually I'm wondering about what the literal meaning of "dashed" is , somewhere along the way I learned that "dashed hopes" meant "shattered hopes" but a dashed line isn't really "shattered" since dashes aren't all over the place ...so is there an accurate way to describe the word "dashed" in "a dashed line" ?
    – Mohammad
    Mar 31, 2020 at 23:39
  • @Moha the etymology of dash meaning "a symbol like - " might be worth a question at english.stackexchange.com
    – Mark S.
    Mar 31, 2020 at 23:54
  • I was actually thinking about this
    – Mohammad
    Apr 1, 2020 at 0:01
  • 1
    @AvrilLavigne Now I know that the word dash (-) is actually derived from the verb "to dash" , not the other way around . thank you so much .
    – Mohammad
    Apr 1, 2020 at 17:18

Here is one source used in academia:

Source: https://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/45275/tikz-get-values-for-predefined-dash-patterns


Ditto @Astralbee. Let me just add:

"Solid line" means a line with no breaks. Like if you were drawing it with a pencil, you'd put the pencil down and draw without picking it up.

"Dotted line" means, as the name implies, a line made up of dots. To draw it you would make a dot with a pencil, move the pencil a little and make another dot, etc.

"Dashed line" means a line made up of short strokes with breaks in between. You would put the pencil down, draw a short distance, pick it up and move it just a little, then put it down and draw another short stroke, etc.

I don't think there is a generally-recognized names for patterns like #3. I'd say "a line with alternating dots and dashes". Admittedly a long and cumbersome phrase. If someone said a "dash-dotted line" like Astralbee suggests I might figure out what he meant, but as I say, I don't think that's an agreed-upon term that every English speaker would recognize.

  • Agreed. I think most native speakers would recognise the "dash-dot" pattern as falling within the definition of a "dashed line" in most cases - one very rarely needs to make as fine a distinction as in this case.
    – MikeB
    Apr 1, 2020 at 10:49

Also commonly used for the third case is dash-dot line (as well as dash-dotted and rarely dashed-dotted). The order is sometimes reversed ("dot-dashed"), so it should be clear that there's no single universally correct answer. Here are some examples of actual usage.

Note that "dashed and dotted" (as mentioned in the comments) is never (IME) used for these lines. There's a good reason for this. A typical usage in a figure caption is "Samples A, B, and C are denoted by solid, dashed, and dash-dot(ted) lines respectively". Replace "dash-dotted" with "dashed and dotted" and you get a sentence that's harder to parse, and on first reading implies a mismatch between the number of samples and the number of lines.

It's also not uncommon in academic papers to refer to short-dashed and long-dashed lines (the hyphen being important as the length modifies the "dash" not the "dashed line"). While it would be possible to describe an arbitrary pattern of short and long dashes and dots, once the simple set of solid, long-dashed, dotted, short-dashed, and dash-dot lines is exhausted in a graph it's better to refer to them graphically either in the caption or a legend. By the way, to preempt comments, there's still a use for these as figures generally work better if they don't rely solely on colour (to account for monochrome printers and colourblind readers). In technical drawings (as opposed to graphs), lines may well be referred to by their meanings rather than their types, except to define meanings for the various line types used.

  • For the "dashed and dotted" problem you mention, I suggest the compound adjective "dashed-and-dotted." Apr 2, 2020 at 10:31
  • @AndrewMorton that would work, but I wanted to concentrate on established use rather than proposing something that isn't common.
    – Chris H
    Apr 2, 2020 at 10:46

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