Learn When to Use a Hyphen in Writing

Using hyphens can be confusing for most of us. So how does one use it correctly? In this guide, you will learn when to use a hyphen in writing correctly.

What is a Hyphen?

A hyphen is a punctuation mark (-) that is used at the end of a written line if the word needs to be divided. It is also used to link the parts of a compound word and also phrases. There are times that hyphens are only optional. There are also cases that it is used when a word or a phrase is before a noun. Coffee-table lamp (the lamp is positioned on a coffee table) and well-timed entrance (the entrance is well timed) are good examples of the usage of hyphens between two words before a noun.

Evolution of Words

Before we discuss when to use a hyphen in writing, let us discuss on how hyphenated words come to be. There are words and phrases that evolved from being separated into being linked to form an idea. There is a tendency of English repeated words to be linked when they are frequently used with each other. Before they are joined into a single word, they tend to be hyphenated at first. There are exceptions, of course, such as the word database. It used to be written as ‘database’ and it skipped the hyphenated phase and jumped to the widely used ‘database’ form.

Rules on Hyphen Usage

  • Two or more adjectives that act as a single idea and are located before a noun are connected with a hyphen. Example: He really is a first-class soldier.
  • Hyphens are also used to link words in expressions that express one idea. Example: This present is from my sister-in-law.
  • Never use a hyphen after a –ly ended adverb. Example: I want to know more about that newly discovered ancient ruins.
  • Another tip on when to use a hyphen in writing is when writing fractions and cardinal numbers that are composed of two words. Example: The project will consume one-fourth of our budget within twenty-three days.
  • Do not use hyphens when writing chemical terms. Example: Be careful in handling the calcium carbide solution. We only have a few of that left.
  • Never use hyphens in compounds that use comparative or superlative adjectives. Example: When you are using the best laid plans, a more likely outcome is success!
  • Using a hyphen in a modifier using a letter or numeral as the second element is not correct hyphen usage. Example: We are doing research on a Type I antibody.
  • Hyphenate words prefixed by ex-, self-, or all-, and some words prefixed by cross-. Example: The legal battle between him and his ex-wife was sensationalized by the media.
  • Never hyphenate words prefixed by non, un, in, dis, co, anti, hyper, pre, re, post, out, bi, counter, de, semi, mis, mega, micro, inter, over, and under. Example: The uninfected survivor will never forget that zombie outbreak in the far east.
  • Generally, verb and preposition combinations are not hyphenated. Example: I left him a message on his voice mail but he never called back.
  • A good instance when to use a hyphen in writing is when you need clarity for your statement.  Example: He does not like going to dirty-movie theaters. (the movies shown in that theater are obscene)

If you don’t know when to use a hyphen in writing, we are always glad to help you asap!