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Hyphens between Words
When to Use a Hyphen between WordsHyphens are used to join words to show the reader they are the same entity. For example:
- I am seeking a six-fingered man. (The hyphen joins "six" and "fingered" to show the two words are one entity, i.e., one adjective.)
- Dentists use laughing-gas. (The hyphen joins "laughing" and "gas" to show the two words are one entity, i.e., one noun.)
Table of Contents
- When To Use a Hyphen
- Nine Ways to Use Hyphens between Words
- Hyphens Are Not Meant to be Used for Ranges
- The Different Types of Dash
- Printable Test
When To Use a HyphenHyphens have two main functions:
(1) To join words to show they are a single entity.
- ice-axe (This is one thing. The hyphen makes it clear that we're not talking about an axe made of ice.)
- cooking-oil (This is one thing. The hyphen makes it clear that oil is not cooking, i.e., getting hot)
- free-range eggs ("Free-range" is one adjective. The hyphen makes it clear that the eggs are not free. It also makes the text easier to read.)
- twenty four-page leaflets ("Four-page" is one adjective. The hyphen makes it clear that each leaflet has four pages. It also makes the text easier to read.)
(2) To join a prefix to a word root for clarity or readability.
- re-press (The hyphen makes it clear that the meaning is "to press again" and not "repress" as in "to put down by force.")
- re-establish (This is easier to read than "reestablish.")
Nine Ways to Use Hyphens between WordsListed below are the nine ways to use hyphens:
(1) To form a compound noun.
- Being married means I can eat ice-cream in bed. (Actor Brad Pitt)
- Pass me the plastic wire-fastener.
(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.
(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.)
- 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 twenty-four
(8) When writing fractions in full.
(9) With some prefixes.
Hyphens Are Not Meant to be Used for RangesHyphens 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 chastise you 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.
The Different Types of DashThe table below shows the four main dash-like characters ordered longest to shortest. Note that hyphens are shorter than dashes.
|Name||Punctuation||How To Get One|
|em dash||—||Ctl + Alt + minus (on the numeric pad)|
|minus sign||−||minus (on the numeric pad)|
|en dash||–||Ctl + minus (on the numeric pad)|
|hyphen||-||- (the key to the right of "0")|
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