[Infographic] Hyphen Use: Hyphenation Rules

hyphenated versus unhyphenatedWhen 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.

Hyphen use infographic

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Hyphen use DOs

 Picture of the number oneUse a hyphen with compound words

“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.”

Picture of the number twoUse 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.”

Picture of the number threeUse a hyphen where age indicators are used as nouns

“The seven-year itch.”
“The five-year-old gargoyle started to sprout a few grey hairs.”

Picture of the number fourUse a hyphen when adverbs that don’t end in –ly are used as compound words

“The long-awaited mudslide was finally open to the public.”
“The furry dog got a much-needed haircut.”

Picture of the number fiveUse 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.

Picture of the number sixUse a hyphen with some prefixes


  • 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


Picture of the number oneUse a hyphen when words end in –ly

“The squid’s homework was beautifully presented.”

Picture of the number twoUse a hyphen between two adjectives when the word and could have been placed between them.

“The skunk received a lovely, fragrant bouquet on Valentine’s Day.”

Picture of the number threeUse a hyphen when nouns are followed by their modifiers

“The walls were paper thin.”
“The cheese is nine years old.”

Picture of the number fourUse a hyphen when fractions are used as nouns

“When the cake came, I grabbed my one-quarter slice immediately.”

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