Grammar Monster
Grammar Monster

Hyphens (Not Dashes) between Words (with Examples)

Hyphens (Not Dashes) between Words

Those "dashes between words" are usually hyphens between words.

This page is about hyphens between words. (Hyphens are shorter than dashes.)

Read more about dashes.

Hyphens are most often used to join words to show they are a single entity (e.g., water-bottle, cooking-oil, free-range eggs, four-page document). They can also be used as a separator within a word for clarity (e.g., re-press) or readability (e.g., re-establish).

Examples of Using Hyphens between Words

Listed below are the main uses of hyphens:

(1) To form a compound noun.
  • Being married means I can eat ice-cream in bed. (Brad Pitt)
  • Pass me the plastic wire-fastener.
Read more about hyphens in compound nouns.

(2) To form a compound adjective.
  • It's only a three-seater aircraft.
  • It will be a never-to-be-forgotten experience.
  • They had a twenty-year-old cat.
Read more about hyphens in compound adjectives.

(3) To remove ambiguity with adjectives.
  • It is a heavy-metal detector.
  • (The hyphen makes it clear the device detects heavy metals as opposed to being a heavy device.)
  • It is a broken-heart pendant.
  • (The hyphen makes it clear the pendant is of a broken heart as opposed to being a broken pendant.)
(4) To remove ambiguity with adverbs.
  • He is the best-known actor.
  • (The hyphen makes it clear he is not the best actor of the known actors.)
  • There are more-important things in life.
  • (The hyphen makes it clear that more modifies important and not things.)
Note: Do not join an adverb to an adjective unless it eliminates ambiguity.
  • She is an extremely-happy dog.
  • She is a very-happy dog.
(5) To form an original compound verb.
  • The winner typically cheese-chases at 20 mph.
  • He needed to gate-vault the obstacle.
  • James spent the evening in hospital after he happy-slapped a bystander, who turned out to be a champion boxer.
(6) To form an original compound noun.
  • This issue is a real no-brainer.
(7) When writing numbers in full.
  • three hundred and twenty-four
  • sixty-one
Note: Use a hyphen for all numbers between 21 and 99 (less those divisible by 10, e.g., 30, 40).

(8) When writing fractions in full.
  • four-fifths
  • two-thirds
(9) With some prefixes.
  • anti-aircraft
  • cooperate
Read the guidelines for using hyphens in prefixes.
Top Tip

Hyphens Are Not Meant to be Used for Ranges

Hyphens are not meant to be used for ranges (e.g., 12-14, 2001- 2010). Dashes are used for this purpose. However, given that the hyphen is so easy to find on a keyboard, hyphens have become acceptable for ranges. Only a very strict grammar pedant would pull you up for using hyphens. If this were to happen, you could make a good case for the pedant being out of date.

Read about dashes between numbers.