How To Hyphenate Properly

The hyphen is a punctuation mark that has been debated about for decades.  It is sometimes viewed as unnecessary, but there are actually very many important uses for the hyphen.  Many people in the past have pushed for the removal of the hyphen from language, but the fact is that it remains widely used to this day.  The problem, however, is that many people do not know, or are unable to recognize, proper situations in which a hyphen should be used, as well as how to go about using it.  And so, I'm going to list a few simple rules as to when and how a hyphen should be used.      

  • First off, there are many words that need hyphens in order to avoid being ambiguous.  For example, there is a big difference between the words “reformed” and “re-formed.”  However, this does not mean that a hyphen should be used in every possible situation.  For example, the word “unofficial” should not be hyphenated, because it conveys the exact same meaning as “un-official.”      
  • It is also necessary to always use hyphens when writing out numbers.  For example, “twenty-two,” “thirty-nine,” and so on.  “Twenty two,” obviously, is simply not acceptable.      
  • Hyphens should also be used when linking words together, whether nouns with nouns or adjectives with adjectives.  For example, “Japanese-American.”      
  • Hyphens are also used when two words modify a third.  This may sound confusing, but it's actually quite simple.  Take, for example, “five-story building” or “inside-out socks.”  It is not always necessary to hyphenate the words “five story” or “inside out,” but the fact that they modify another word means that they must be hyphenated.  This is done to avoid confusion, which could be caused by not knowing which words were modifying which.  However, when the first two are hyphenated, it is clear that they together modify the third.      
  • There are also certain prefixes which can be hyphenated.  These include prefixes such as “anti-,” and “pro-.” It is also necessary to hyphenate when spelling out words.  For example, “H-Y-P-H-E-N.”
  •  A hyphen should also be used when a word is split and continues from one line to the next, in order to indicate that it is one complete word and not split into two.

There are, in many cases, alternatives to using hyphens which may be more pleasing aesthetically than the hyphenated options.  However, if you follow these guidelines, hyphen usage should be a simple experience.


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