Many writers are scared of hyphens and when it comes to hyphen use they purposely choose to completely omit this dreaded punctuation mark in fear of the fact that they may use it incorrectly.
The truth is, hyphens aren’t actually that complicated and, once you’ve mastered some basic rules pertaining to their usage, you will find that the concepts relating to hyphen use are actually pretty straightforward.
Here are the basic dos and don’ts of the hyphenation rules.
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Hyphen use DOs
_e6431d07_Use 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.”
_39dd0380_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.”
_f852b1ee_Use 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.”
_7a95b338_Use 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.”
_89ec3b52_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.
_185d55ce_Use 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
_e6431d07_Use a hyphen when words end in –ly
“The squid’s homework was beautifully presented.”
_39dd0380_Use 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.”
_f852b1ee_Use a hyphen when nouns are followed by their modifiers
“The walls were paper thin.”
“The cheese is nine years old.”
_7a95b338_Use a hyphen when fractions are used as nouns
“When the cake came, I grabbed my one-quarter slice immediately.”
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