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Is it acceptable to use a dash instead of "that" in the following sentence?

Kids always say to their classmates that dishes cooked by their own mothers are the best in the world.

Kids always say to their classmates - dishes cooked by their own mothers are the best in the world.

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No. There are two types of dashes and they have different meaning. An em-dash (about as long as the letter m) is the longer of the two and sometimes just two regular dashes is a break in the current thought of the sentence. The en-dash is the shorter dash, and what you are usually used to.

Here is how we use the em-dash:

It was another dreary afternoon, with hardly a thing to do, I had wasted the first hour of the day counting the number of tiles — what is that noise I hear?

It can also be used for emphasis, but is often heard in a different tone or manner than the main form of speech.

The en-dash has a number of uses, usually to bring together words, such as a jack-o'-lantern.

You may be looking for the colon:

Kids always say to their classmates: dishes cooked by their own mothers are the best in the world.

The dash can denote speech, usually in novels.

Mary was quite disturbed by the children in her class.

— What is your problem Mary? Why do you always wash your dishes?

— I'm a responsible young lady, and I will wash them as I please

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    "The dash can denote speech, usually in novels." -- although historically the case, direct speech is now always enclosed within double quotes ("") or single quotes (''). Learners would be well advised to avoid using dashes in this way, as it is distinctly non-standard. – Matt May 2 '13 at 17:51

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