Hyphens

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What Are Hyphens? (with Examples)

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), and 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.

Below is a quick overview of when hyphens are used. Click here for a more comprehensive version of this list or click on the "Read more" link with each entry.

When to Use Hyphens (A Very Quick Overview)

Below is a quick overview on when to use hyphens.

(1) Use hyphens in compound adjectives to show they are single entities.

In the examples below, the compound adjectives are shaded. Brits tend to use hyphens in compound adjectives more than Americans. It is not a grammatical error not to link the words in a compound adjective with a hyphen(s). However, it usually makes it easier to read, and it showcases your writing skills.

(2) Use hyphens in compound nouns to show they are single entities.

In the examples below, the compound nouns are shaded. Often, the non-hyphenated version is acceptable too. However, using a hyphen will make your word easier to identify as a single entity, and it showcases your writing skills.

(3) Use hyphens with prefixes. Not every prefix requires a hyphen.

Here are the guidelines on when to use a hyphen with a prefix.

WHAT IS PUNCTUATION?

What are apostrophes?
What are colons?
What are commas?
What are dashes?
What is ellipsis?
What are exclamation marks?
More about hyphens
What is a full stop / period?
What are parentheses (i.e., brackets)?
What are questions marks?
What are quotation marks?
What are semicolons?


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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 are hyphens?
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