Use of Hyphens
Published byat August 17th, 2021 , Revised On December 12, 2022
To understand how to use hyphens, first, you must learn what hyphens are. A hyphen ( – ) is a punctuation mark used as a joiner. It is used to join two parts of a single word. Although you may see hyphens appear after some of the prefixes, the main role is to link compound words.
You can use the hyphen to:
- link compound nouns (e.g., mother-in-law, runner-up, great-grandmother)
- link compound adjectives (e.g., “air-tight” seal, “narrow-minded” man, “old-fashioned” lady)
- link prefix to a word (e.g., re-write, re-examine, ex-wife)
A hyphen shows that the joined word is a single entity. It aims to eradicate obscurity.
A single noun made up of two words is called a compound noun.
Compound nouns are made by joining nouns with phrasal verbs or adjectives. They do not always require a hyphen, but when they are made by joining phrasal verbs, you either use a hyphen or combine them into a single word. For example
|Phrasal verbs||Phrasal Verbs used as nouns|
|I saw him trying to sneak in last night||He sneaked-in last night|
|Professor told him to go ahead with the reading||He received a go-ahead from the professor|
Like compound nouns, a compound adjective consists of two words working together to modify a noun. A compound adjective requires a hyphen when it is used before a noun. For example;
|Compound Adjectives||Compound adjectives used before nouns|
|He is two years old.||She adopted a two-year-old boy.|
|The table has four feet.||It is a four-feet long table.|
|The monster had green eyes.||It was the green-eyed monster.|
However, If the compound adjective comes after a noun, you do not need to use a hyphen.
|Compound adjectives before a noun||Compound adjective after a noun|
|Well-known politician.||The politician is well known.|
|Brightly-lit room||The room was lit brightly.|
A compound adjective that ends with “ly” does not need a hyphen as well. For example, “The Company’s highly skilled labor is responsible for smartly paced work.
Prefixes are added before a word to change its meaning, such as “im-possible,” “un-able.”A set of instructions does not exist, which guides whether we should use a hyphen to link prefix to a word or not. If you are “unsure” about using a hyphen, check the dictionary for correct information. But generally, if a prefix is used before a capital letter or a number, always use a hyphen.
|Hyphenated prefixes||Unhyphenated prefixes|
Hyphens usually are not used if a term becomes too familiar. For example, e-mail has now turned into the email.
A hyphen can transform the meaning of a sentence, so be careful while using it. Sometimes an unnecessary use of a hyphen can make your sentence unclear and confusing for the readers. For example;
|Words||Transforming it using the hyphen||Meaning|
|2 year old boys||
Even if you are an experienced writer, hyphens can confuse you. One thing to make your writing better is consistency. Be consistent in hyphenating terms. If you write ”un-expected” make sure to use a hyphen for prefixes like “un-sure,” “un-aware,” “un-ambiguous.” Always consult the dictionary to be sure of whether you should use a hyphen or not, and be careful about overdoing it. A hyphen should only be used if it is genuinely needed.
A hyphen is used:
- To join the words of a compound adjective
- To join the words of a compound noun
- To join a prefix to a word
- In compound adjectives to show they are single entities.
- In compound nouns to show they are single entities.
- With prefixes.
Using hyphens to link multi-word but single entities makes your text easier to read, and it showcases your writing skills.