What Are Hyphens? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Hyphens

A hyphen (-) is a punctuation mark used to join the separate parts of a compound word. A hyphen is a joiner.

A hyphen is used:
  • To join the words of a compound adjective (e.g., "five-page" document)
  • To join the words of compound noun (e.g., "cooking-oil")
  • To join a prefix to a word (e.g., "re-examine").
One of the main functions of a hyphen is to show the joined words are a single entity (e.g., a single noun or a single adjective). A hyphen is also useful to eliminate ambiguity. For example, a hyphen makes it clear that "cooking-oil" is oil for cooking and not oil that is cooking.

Read more about using hyphens.

How Hyphens Are Used

Here is a quick overview on how hyphens are used:

(1) In compound adjectives to show they are single entities.

In the examples below, the compound adjectives are shaded.
  • free-range eggs
  • two-day break
  • four-seater aircraft
Brits tend to use hyphens in compound adjectives more than Americans. It is okay not to link the words in a compound adjective with a hyphen(s). However, using a hyphen usually makes the text easier to read, and it showcases your writing skills.

Read more about hyphens in compound adjectives
Read more about alternatives to hyphens in compound adjectives

(2) In compound nouns to show they are single entities.

In the examples below, the compound nouns are shaded.
  • Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing-gas, has a slightly sweet odour and taste.
  • I have lost my water-bottle.
  • He was seen by a passer-by.
  • Did he marry his sister-in-law?
Often, the non-hyphenated version is acceptable too. However, using a hyphen will make your word easier to identify as a single entity, and, again, it showcases your writing skills.

Read more about hyphens in compound nouns
Read more about forming the plurals of compound nouns

(3) With prefixes.

In the examples below, the prefixes are shaded.
  • re-enact
  • cooperate and co-operate
  • antifascist and anti-fascist
Not every prefix requires a hyphen.

Read more about hyphens in prefixes.
Read more about prefixes.

Other Punctuation Marks

Here is a slider with lessons to the other punctuation marks:

Why Should I Care about Hyphens?

Using hyphens to link multi-word but single entities (such as compound adjectives and compound nouns) makes your text easier to read, and it showcases your writing skills.

Read our main page about using hyphens.

See Also

Much more about using hyphens What is punctuation? What are apostrophes? What are colons? What are commas? What are dashes? What is ellipsis? What are exclamation marks? What is a full stop / period? What are parentheses (i.e., brackets)? What are questions marks? What are quotation marks? What are semicolons? Glossary of grammatical terms