What is the Rule on Hyphenated Words? Tips to Use Them Correctly

Many people seem to struggle with knowing when to use a hyphen in their writing. I’ve seen so many inexplicable hyphens in sentences that I’ve had to stop myself from pulling my hair out. But, it’s important to know the correct rule on hyphenated words, so you avoid making any unnecessary errors and communicate your message clearly.

The basic rule on hyphenated words is that they’re used to join two or more words together to make a compound word. This helps to clarify the meaning of a sentence and make it easy to understand. However, there are certain situations where you should and should not use a hyphen. Understanding when to use a hyphen will help you to improve your writing skills and take your communication to the next level.

While the rule on hyphenated words may seem like a small detail, it can make all the difference when it comes to effective communication. Hyphens ensure that your message is conveyed correctly to your readers. By avoiding grammatical errors and using hyphens correctly, you can make your writing more professional and easier to understand. So, let’s dive into the world of hyphenated words and discover how to use them properly in your writing!

The Basics of Hyphenation

Hyphenation is the use of a hyphen (-) to join words together. This is done to avoid ambiguity in meaning or to create a single concept from two separate words. The rules for hyphenation can be quite complex, but here are a few basics that will help you get started:

  • Only hyphenate words that are compound modifiers that appear before the nouns they modify. For example, “well-written article,” but “the article was well written.”
  • Do not hyphenate adverbs ending in -ly. For example, “quickly written article.”
  • Do not hyphenate words that are commonly recognized as a single concept. For example, “high school” or “post office.”
  • Hyphenate words when in doubt. It’s better to add a hyphen than to create ambiguity or make the reader pause to figure out the meaning.

Now that we have the basics covered, let’s look at some more specific rules for hyphenation in various situations.

Exceptions to Hyphenation Rules

Hyphenating words can be a confusing and often debated topic. While there are general rules to follow when it comes to hyphenating words, there are always exceptions. Here are a few exceptions to keep in mind:

  • Pre- and Post- Words that begin with “pre-” or “post-” typically don’t need to be hyphenated. Examples include preapproval, postgraduate, and preexisting.
  • Double Vowels and Consonants- Words that have double vowels or consonants don’t need to be hyphenated. Examples include beekeeper, bookkeeper, and cooperate.
  • Prefixes ending with a vowel- Prefixes like co- and re- that end with a vowel typically don’t need to be hyphenated. Examples include coauthor, reestablish, and coordinate.

Of course, there are many more exceptions to hyphenation rules, but these are a few key ones to keep in mind. It’s always best to consult a reliable style guide or reference book when in doubt.

Compounds with Common Root Words

When creating compound words with common root words, the general rule is to use a hyphen. However, there are some exceptions that arise when the compound word has a different meaning.

For example, let’s take the word armchair. Without a hyphen, armchair means a comfortable chair for sitting. However, with a hyphen as in arm-chair, it means a person who offers opinions or judgments on topics beyond their expertise.

Compound Word Without Hyphen Meaning With Hyphen Meaning
Armchair Comfortable chair for sitting Person who offers opinions or judgments on topics beyond their expertise
Blackboard A chalkboard that is black A board used for writing or displaying information, often found in schools or classrooms
Bittersweet Combination of bitterness and sweetness Feeling of happiness mixed with sadness

As you can see, it’s important to consider the meaning of the compound word when deciding whether or not to use a hyphen. A good rule of thumb is to consult a reliable reference book or style guide and use the hyphen if it clarifies the meaning of the word.

When to use a hyphen vs an en dash vs an em dash

Hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes are all used to connect words and phrases in different contexts. Understanding when to use each of these punctuation marks can significantly improve your writing skills and help you convey your message more clearly.

  • Hyphen (-): Hyphens are used to connect two words that function as a single adjective preceding a noun. For instance, “well-written report,” “five-year-old boy,” and “newly-painted wall” are all hyphenated phrases that modify the respective nouns.
  • En dash (–): En dashes are primarily used to indicate ranges, such as “2010–2015” or “Monday–Friday” in calendars or schedules. They can also be used in compound adjectives linking two equal parts such as “New York–based company.” En dashes are longer than hyphens but shorter than em dashes.
  • Em dash (—): Em dashes are used to emphasize or add more information to a sentence. They can replace parentheses or commas to make a stronger emphasis. For instance, “I have three hobbies—reading, painting, and hiking” or “The concert was canceled—again!” Em dashes are longer than hyphens and en dashes, and they can be used alone as a standalone sentence or phrase.

It’s crucial to use these punctuation marks correctly to avoid grammatical errors and add clarity to your writing. You can easily create these dashes on a computer by using the correct keyboard shortcuts or by inserting them from the menu of your word processor.

When used appropriately, these punctuation marks can convey the proper meaning and tone of your writing explicitly. Therefore, it’s essential to understand when and how to use hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes effectively.

Symbol Name Usage
Hyphen Connecting two words as a single adjective
En Dash Indicates ranges or equal parts
Em Dash Emphasizes or adds more information to a sentence

Overall, the proper use of hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes can significantly enhance your writing skills and help you better express your ideas.

Common mistakes with hyphenation

Mastering the rules of grammar and punctuation is an essential part of becoming a skilled writer. However, even the most experienced writers can make mistakes when it comes to hyphenation. Here are some common errors to be aware of:

  • Inconsistent hyphenation: One common mistake is to use hyphens intermittently in a sentence. For example, the sentence, “She had a well-kept garden,” should have a hyphen between “well” and “kept” to correctly modify “garden.”
  • Overuse of hyphens: Another error is to use hyphens excessively, often with compound adjectives that function as a single modifier. For instance, the phrase “he was a well-known expert” should not be hyphenated because the adjectives can stand alone and still convey meaning. However, if it is written as “he was a well-known gardening expert,” the hyphenation helps to clarify that “well-known” modifies “gardening expert.”
  • Not using hyphens when needed: Alternatively, sometimes writers do not use hyphens when required, leading to incorrect meanings. For instance, the sentence “We need to re-cover the couch” refers to reupholstering, whereas “We need to recover the couch” means to retrieve it from somewhere.

To avoid such errors, it is important to be familiar with the rules of hyphenation. An excellent resource is the Chicago Manual of Style, which provides comprehensive guidelines for all aspects of writing, including hyphenation. Remember, proper hyphenation helps to ensure clarity and precision in your writing, so take the time to double-check your hyphens when editing your work.

Hyphenation Rules And Table

A hyphen is a small but essential punctuation mark that can change the meaning of a sentence if placed incorrectly. The following are some basic rules to consider when using hyphens:

Situation Example Correct Hyphenation
Compound words Birdhouse Bird-house
Compound adjectives Long-term goal Long-term goal
Prefixes Pseudo-science Pseudo-science
Numbers and fractions Two-thirds Two-thirds

Remember that these rules are not exhaustive and that few exceptions exist. Keep in mind that the correct use of hyphens enhances readability and adds polish to your writing.

Hyphenation in Compound Adjectives

Compound adjectives are formed by joining two or more words to modify a noun. Oftentimes, these words are hyphenated to clarify their meaning and avoid ambiguity.

  • In general, adjectives made up of two words are hyphenated when they come before a noun, but not when they come after a noun. For example, “a well-known actor” vs. “the actor is well known.”
  • Hyphenation is also important for adjectives that could be misunderstood without a hyphen, such as “small business owner” vs. “small-business owner.” The first implies a business owner who runs a small business, while the second implies a business owner who specializes in small businesses.
  • Compound adjectives that are made up of three or more words are almost always hyphenated, such as “state-of-the-art technology.” This makes it clear that the three words are working together as a single modifier.

It’s worth noting that hyphenation rules can vary based on style guides and personal preference. However, it’s always important to consider the clarity and readability of the sentence when deciding whether or not to use a hyphen in a compound adjective.

Correct Usage Incorrect Usage
well-respected professor well respected professor
newly-wed couple newly wed couple
first-rate customer service first rate customer service

In conclusion, hyphenation plays an important role in clarifying the meaning of compound adjectives. By following some basic guidelines and considering the context and readability of the sentence, writers can ensure that their message is communicated clearly and effectively.

Hyphenation in Prefixes and Suffixes

Hyphenation rules can be particularly confusing when it comes to prefixes and suffixes. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Prefixes are usually not hyphenated. For example, you would write “prewar,” “submarine,” and “cooperate” without a hyphen.
  • However, certain prefixes do require a hyphen to avoid confusion or awkwardness. For instance, “re-creation” indicates the act of creating something again, whereas “recreation” refers to leisure activities. Similarly, “co-op” is a shortened form of “cooperative,” while “coop” is short for “chicken coop.”
  • When multiple prefixes are added to a word, it can be helpful to add hyphens between each one. For example, “non-English-speaking” is easier to read than “nonenglishspeaking.”
  • Suffixes are generally not hyphenated, but there are some exceptions. When a suffix is added to a word that ends in a vowel and the suffix begins with a vowel, a hyphen can be used to separate them. For example, “pre-eminent” and “co-author.”

It is worth noting that there are many exceptions to these guidelines, and the best way to ensure correct usage is to consult a reputable style guide.

Here is an example table that highlights some commonly hyphenated prefixes and suffixes:

Prefixes Suffixes
anti- -able
inter- -ful
mid- -ly
self- -ness
un- -like

Remember, while it’s important to be aware of hyphenation rules, it’s equally important to use good judgment and prioritize clarity for your readers. When in doubt, it never hurts to consult a trusted writing resource.

British vs American hyphenation rules

Hyphenation rules can be confusing, especially when different countries have different standards. The differences between British and American hyphenation rules can cause confusion, especially for writers who have to write for both markets.

In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the key differences between British and American hyphenation rules so that you can write confidently, no matter which style you need to use.

British vs American hyphenation rules

  • In British English, compound words are often hyphenated. For example: “self-esteem”. In American English, these words are usually written as one word: “selfesteem”.
  • When making a compound adjective, British hyphenation rules require the use of a hyphen. For example: “well-known”. In American English, the hyphen is often omitted: “well known”.
  • American English usually hyphenates the prefixes “self-“, “co-“, and “re-“, while British English does not. For example: “self-esteem” vs. “self esteem” (British) and “co-worker” vs. “coworker” (American).

When to use a hyphen in British English

In British English, hyphenation tends to be more complex than in American English. However, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Use a hyphen when linking prefixes or suffixes with a word. Example: pre-Christmas, ex-wife
  • Use a hyphen when linking words that form a compound. Example: high-speed, well-known
  • Use a hyphen when numbers are used as adjectives. Example: forty-two-year-old

Bear in mind that there is a lot of flexibility when it comes to using hyphens in British English, and the rules are not always consistent or easy to follow. This is why it is important to consult a reliable reference guide when in doubt.

Hyphenation in American English

In American English, the rules for hyphenation are more straightforward and predictable. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Use a hyphen in compound words. Example: self-esteem, second-hand
  • Avoid using a hyphen with adverbs that end in “-ly” with an adjective. Example: happily married rather than happily-married
  • Avoid using a hyphen after a prefix that ends with a vowel and the word that follows also begins with a vowel. Example: coordinate rather than co-ordinate

The Bottom Line

British English American English
Compound words are often hyphenated Compound words are often written as one word
Hyphen is usually used in compound adjectives Hyphen is often omitted in compound adjectives
Prefixes “self-“, “co-“, and “re-” are not hyphenated Prefixes “self-“, “co-“, and “re-” are often hyphenated

The differences between British and American hyphenation rules may be subtle, but they are important to keep in mind. Being aware of these differences will ensure that you are able to write hyphenated words correctly and effectively in both markets.

FAQs about Hyphenated Words

Q: When should I use a hyphen in a word?
A: Hyphens are used to connect two or more words closely related to each other, creating compound words or to separate syllables. For example, “ice-cream” is a hyphenated word.

Q: Is it always necessary to hyphenate compound words?
A: No. Only hyphenate compound words when it’s necessary to avoid ambiguity and create clarity. For instance, “four-wheel drive” is hyphenated to differentiate it from saying “four drive wheels.”

Q: Is there a difference between a hyphen and a dash?
A: Yes. The hyphen (-) is a short horizontal line used to connect words, while the dash (—) is longer and used to indicate a pause or break in a sentence.

Q: Should I hyphenate words with prefixes or suffixes?
A: It depends on the word. Generally, you don’t need to hyphenate words with common prefixes or suffixes like “re,” “un,” or “less” unless ambiguity arises. For example, “re-pair” is hyphenated to avoid confusing it with “repair.”

Q: What about adverbs ending in -ly?
A: You don’t typically need to hyphenate adverbs ending in -ly, unless they are part of a compound adjective. For example, “a quickly moving train” vs. “a well-known author.”

Q: Should I hyphenate age ranges?
A: Yes. When writing an age range, hyphenate the numbers. For example, “the 8-10 age group.”

Q: Is there any other rule about hyphenated words?
A: One other thing to keep in mind is that compound adjectives before a noun should be hyphenated. For example, “A five-foot-tall man.”

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading our FAQs on hyphenated words. We hope this helped clarify some of your questions and made it easier for you to use hyphens correctly in your writing. Remember to use hyphens only when necessary for clarity and avoid overuse. We’ll see you again soon at our blog.