Where to Place a Hyphen in a Sentence: A Guide for Writers

You may be familiar with the hyphen, a punctuation mark often referred to as a “small dash.” It is the dash-like symbol that connects words, creating compound words. For example, instead of saying “things that give me good vibes,” you can use the hyphenated word “good-vibes-spreading-things” to convey the same meaning.

In addition to joining words, hyphens are necessary to clarify the relationship between words. For instance, using a hyphen in “glued-together” emphasizes that the words are connected. Some words, like “mother-in-law” and “editor-in-chief,” are born with hyphens.

There are different ways to use a hyphen, which we’ll explore in this post. So, are you ready to enhance your hyphen-using skills? Let’s dive in!

What is a hyphen?

A hyphen is a small dash-like punctuation mark used to connect separate words. It serves as a joiner, indicating that the words should be considered together. Hyphens are essential tools in a writer’s toolkit, as they provide clarity and help convey your intended meaning.

What does a hyphen look like?

A hyphen resembles a small dash or minus sign. It is commonly denoted by the symbol “-“. Though it may be mistaken for a minus sign, remember that there should be no space around a hyphen.

Is a hyphen a dash?

While a hyphen is a small dash, it is important to note that there are other types of dashes as well. An en dash (“-“) is a medium-length dash, approximately the width of the letter “N.” On the other hand, an em dash (“—”) is the longest dash. In contrast, a hyphen is the shortest dash in this dash family.

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In terms of function and spacing, hyphens are used to combine words, while en dashes indicate ranges and em dashes are used in place of commas, parentheses, and colons. The AP style guide recommends using hyphens for date and number ranges, while the Chicago Manual of Style leans toward en dashes.

When and how to use a hyphen

Now, let’s explore the rules for using a hyphen. Keep in mind that style guides may have variations in their grammar rules, so it’s always good to consult the appropriate guide for your writing. Here are some guidelines to help you:

  • Compound words: Hyphens are used to combine two or more words to form new ones. For example, “self-esteem” and “pre-workout” are hyphenated compound words. However, not all compounds require hyphens.
  • Prefixes: When a word or letter comes before another word, use a hyphen to combine them. For instance, “anti-inflammatory” and “self-motivated” are examples of hyphenated words.
  • Suffixes: Similar to prefixes, suffixes can also be joined with words using hyphens. Examples include “child-friendly” and “action-packed.”
  • Connecting words: Use hyphens to connect words with “high” and “low” to form compound adjectives, such as “high-level” and “low-impact.”
  • Numbers: Hyphenate all numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine in written communication. However, certain style guides may have different rules.
  • Compound adjectives: When two or more adjectives combine to modify a noun, use hyphens to indicate their combined meaning. For example, “10-year-old” and “2-minute recording.”
  • Fractions: When a compound adjective includes a fraction, connect the fraction words with a hyphen. For example, “half-baked” and “three-quarters.”
  • Compound numbers: Hyphens are used to join fractions with numbers to create compound numbers. For instance, “six-and-a-half-foot-long.”
  • Compound verbs and nouns: You can create your own compound verbs and nouns using hyphens for clarity. For example, “hip-hop” and “no-soda person.”
  • Compound modifiers: When using compound modifiers with a common base, include the hyphen to indicate the connection. Example: “short- and long-term.”
  • Adverbs: Adverbs ending in “-ly” generally do not require hyphens. However, adverbs modifying other adverbs may use hyphens. For instance, “highly-regarded” and “well-known.”
  • Two-word adjectives: When using a two-word adjective as one unit, connect them with a hyphen. For example, “child-friendly policies.”
  • Participles: When forming compound modifiers using present or past participles, hyphens should be used. For instance, “heavily decorated” and “gorgeous-looking.”
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Remember, if using a hyphen adds clarity to your writing, don’t hesitate to include it. Hyphens are a valuable tool in conveying your intended meaning.

To further enhance your writing skills, consider installing Writer for Chrome today.

Sources: 5 WS

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