1. Use a hyphen (-) to unify certain compound words.  (In many cases, it is advisable to use a good dictionary to see if a compound should be two words, hyphenated, or one word.)

    1. Two or more words modifying a noun or pronoun and used as an adjective often should be hyphenated.
      • able-bodied workers   • long-needed vacation   • pink-blossomed bush
      • best-known one   • narrow-minded jerk   • twenty-first-century war
      • happy-go-lucky me   • old-fashioned love song   • well-dressed few
      1. Compound words used as adjectives, preceding the words they modify, and as acting as a single idea often are hyphenated; whereas, they often are not hyphenated when they follow the words they modify.
        • Don’t touch those red-hot coals.  (hyphenation)
        • The coals are red hot, so don’t touch them.  (no hyphenation)
        • Brad’s easy-going nature often causes others to take advantage of him.  (hyphenation)
        • By nature, Brad is easy going, which often causes others to take advantage of him.  (no hyphenation)
        • Wanda is a bright young lady.  (no hyphenation, since “bright” and “young” are separate ideas)
      2. Compound words used as adverb/verb (especially present participle) combinations and preceding nouns often are not hyphenated.
        • Ron was having a difficult time keeping up with the ever quickening pace.  (no hyphenation)

        However, if the meaning is unclear without the hyphen, then the hyphen should be used.

        • That pilot’s company builds, maintains and flies technically-advanced aircraft for general aviation.  (hyphen recommended; without it, reader might think “technically” modifies “flies” and then think the technical flyer flies an advanced aircraft, thus creating confusion while reading)

    2. Compounds that have verb and noun forms should appear as separate words when used as verbs and as one word when used as nouns.
      • At that rate, the engine will break down soon.  (verb, no hyphenation)
      • We suffered a breakdown in communication.  (noun, no hyphenation)
    3. When the first word of a two-word modifier ends in ly, hyphenate the compound if the ly word acts as one idea with the second word and if the ly word can be used alone with the noun (i.e., if the ly word is an adjective).
      • There goes a friendly-looking man.  (hyphenation, since “friendly” modifies “looking” and is an adjective describing “man”)
      • You sure are a friendly little girl.  (no hyphenation, since “friendly” does not act as one idea with “little”)
      • This is a very brightly lit room.  (no hyphenation, since “brightly” is an adverb and does not modify “room”)
    4. Two or more words acting as noun, and consisting of combinations of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and/or prepositions, often should be hyphenated.
      • as-is   • forget-me-not   • leveling-off
      • brother-in-law   • go-between   • secretary-treasurer
      • court-martial   • jack-of-all-trades   • take-off
    5. Improvised compound words should be hyphenated.
      • hard-and-fast rule   • make-believe world   • stick-in-the-mud dad
      • incredible know-how   • never-to-be-read poem   • tall-fair-and-pretty lass
      • let-him-do-it reaction   • never-say-die attitude   • verbal give-and-take
      • Any ordinary good-gracious-what-next novelist would be content to spin out this plot to book length.
      • This salesman of securities gave me a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t impression.

  2. Use a hyphen to unify prefixes joined to capitalized words.
    • anti-French   • post-Civil War   • trans-North American
    • non-Islamic   • pro-Israeli   • ultra-Communist
    • pan-German   • pseudo-Christian   • un-American

  3. Use a hyphen to unify single capital letters joined to nouns or participles.
    • A-flat   • I-beam   • U-turn
    • C-span   • S-curve   • V-neck
    • H-bomb   • T-square   • X-ray

  4. Use a hyphen to unify most compounds having brother, father, mother, sister, etc. as the first element.
    • brother-workers   • fellow-citizen   • parent-teacher
    • father-in-law   • mother-of-pearl   • sister-cities

    1. Many compounds beginning with the above words are not hyphenated.
      • father love   • mother church   • sister ship

  5. Use a hyphen between the parts of compound numerals from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
    • thirty-eight   • fifty-five   • seventy-three
    • forty-third   • sixty-ninth   • eighty-first

  6. Use a hyphen in fractions if they are written out, but omit the hyphen if one already appears in either the numerator or the denominator.
    • two-thirds   • eleven-seventeenths   • sixty-thousandths
    • forty seven-thousandths   • twenty-three thirtieths   • fifty-eight ninety-sevenths

  7. Use a hyphen between a numbered figure and its unit of measurement.
    • 2-liter bottle   • 8-foot board   • 35-hour week
    • 5-yard gain   • 10-day vacation   • 500-milligram dose

  8. Use a hyphen to unify most compounds having ex or self as the first element.
    • ex-serviceman   • self-control
    • ex-vice-president   • self-respect
    1. Some compounds beginning with ex or self are not hyphenated.
      • excommunicate   • selfsame

  9. Use a hyphen to avoid doubling a vowel or tripling a consonant.
    • anti-imperialistic   • bell-like
    • semi-independent   • will-less

  10. Use a hyphen to prevent misunderstanding or mispronunciation.
    • re-cover as distinguished from recover
    • re-creation as distinguished from recreation
    • re-treat as distinguished from retreat

  11. Use a suspensive (carrying-over) hyphen (or hyphen) when the first, second, or more parts of a compound word are separated from the word(s) to which they are joined in meaning.
    • This was a group of six- and seven-year-olds.
    • There were both anti- and pro-choice advocates at the rally.
    • Marcos bought some 6-, 8-, and 10-penny nails.

  12. Use a hyphen to divide a word at the end of a line, so that the remainder of the word appears on the next line.
    • Charles was not happy with the B+ on his paper, but he under-
    stood that the instructor rarely gave A’s.
    • Kyle never was prone to ingesting much alcohol, but occasion-
    ally he would have a drink with friends.

  13. Use a hyphen (or hyphens) to indicate the structure or spelling of a word.
    • Rafael was puzzled why the common letters in the words r-o-u-g-h, c-o-u-g-h, t-h-r-o-u-g-h, and t-h-o-u-g-h are prounounced so differently.
    • The prefix of this word should be p-r-e, not p-e-r.
    • If you have a lot of s-e-n-s-e, you should be able to make a lot of c-e-n-t-s.

  14. Use a hyphen (or hyphens) to suggest stuttering or any hesitant manner of expression.
    • W-e-ll, I think I can go with you; y-y-es, I’m sure I can.
    • Jim said, “I like t-t-tomatoes but not p-p-potatoes.”

  15. Use a hyphen to represent dialectal or careless pronunciation.
    • The horse came a-tearin’ over to the barn when he heard my whistle.
    • There they sat most of the night, just a-drinkin’ and a-laughin’.

  16. Use a hyphen with most telephone numbers.
    • Zenith 6-8249   • 710-5362   • (877)455-0515

  17. Use a hyphen with certain street addresses.
    • Fred lives at 107-53 89th Street.

Ted’s Homepage

Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery.  All rights reserved.