When it comes to hyphen use, many writers purposely choose to entirely omit this dreaded punctuation mark in fear of using it incorrectly.
The truth is this: hyphens aren’t actually that complicated.
Once you’ve mastered some basic rules about their usage, you will find that the concepts relating to hyphen use are pretty straightforward.
Here are the basic dos and don’ts of the hyphenation rules.
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Hyphen use DOs
“The emu had hand-picked his backgammon team and was confident that he would win this year’s trophy.”
“The prospect of spending an entire weekend with his mother-in-law was enough to make the giant mole shake in his boots.”
Use a hyphen when two or more words are linked with each other to describe a single quality, and they are directly followed by a noun (a person, place, or thing)
“The snotty-nosed teenager.”
“The hairy-knuckled oaf.”
“The seven-year itch.”
“The five-year-old gargoyle started to sprout a few grey hairs.”
“The long-awaited mudslide was finally open to the public.”
“The furry dog got a much-needed haircut.”
Use a hyphen for all compound numbers from twenty-one through to ninety-nine. Use a hyphen for all spelled-out fractions when they are used as adjectives
“The ninety-eight-year-old cheese was extremely smelly.”
“The hobgoblin taught forty-nine students how to play Twister.”
“The sickly toffee has two-thirds of a cup of sugar in it.”
Want to learn more? Check out our guide to when to hyphenate numbers.
- Prefixes that come before proper nouns: “un-American.”
- Hyphenate prefixes ending in an a or i only when the root word begins with the same letter: “ultra-ambitious.”
- All words beginning with self except for selfish and selfless: “self-righteous,” “self-loathing,” “self-assured.”
- With the prefix ex: “The giant’s ex-wife cleared out the cave and took all his possessions.”
Hyphen use DON’Ts
“The squid’s homework was beautifully presented.”
“The skunk received a lovely, fragrant bouquet on Valentine’s Day.”
“The walls were paper thin.”
“The cheese is nine years old.”
“When the cake came, I grabbed my one-quarter slice immediately.”
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