Someone asked me a hyphen question the other day, and I thought, "What a great topic for a spoonful!" Thus 10 HANDY HYPHEN RULES was born. I sincerely hope you find it handy!
1) When two last names are permanently joined together, hyphens are usually used to connect them.
Mary Johnson-Young Julie Watson-Smith
(You may be wondering why Fineberg Cooper isn't hyphenated! That's because I treat Fineberg as my middle name for professional purposes.)
2) Use a hyphen after prefixes ALL, SELF, and ALL; hyphens are also generally used with EX and prefixes ending in the same sound as the word that follows.
ex-president all-knowing self-service
3) Use hyphens when writing out numbers from 21 to 99. Also use hyphens when writing out fractions.
twenty-one thirty-six ninety-nine
4) Use a hyphen to connect a prefix to a proper noun - essentially, whenever it connects to word starting with a capital letter.
mid-April showers pro-American rally anti-Nazi sentiment
5) When two or more words join together (acting as compound adjectives) BEFORE a noun, connect them with a hyphen.
well-known scientist fresh-baked pie
cranberry-orange muffins late-breaking news
When are hyphens unnecessary? When the first adjective ends in ly or when compound adjectives are placed AFTER a noun.
freshly baked pie The scientist was well known.
6) Use hyphens to separate words in compound nouns.
state-of-the-art daughter-in-law free-for-all up-to-date
7) Use hyphens when numbers and words are combined. The trick here is that you should only use hyphens when these act as adjectives BEFORE a noun or as the noun itself. If placed AFTER a noun, no hyphens are required. Do you notice a pattern here?
The 1-mile fun run is popular with young children in town.
My 5-year-old daughter loves to participate.
NO HYPHEN: The race is capped at 50 kids, all under 10 years old.
8) You're likely to see words with the prefix "co" with and without hyphens. Consider co-worker vs. coworker, one of the most frequently seen examples. For me, the hyphen-less version looks like "cow" so I prefer the hyphen, but both are acceptable. With most business and technical words, hyphens are showing up less and less.
Here are some "co" words that should retain their hyphens:
co-conspirator co-anchor co-editor co-chairman
9) Great, when used as a relationship prefix, calls for hyphens.
10) Hyphens feature in creative writing too. If you want to have a character stutter or spell their name out loud, hyphens are your friends.
"D-d-don't leave m-m-me here!" My name Wanda: W-a-n-d-a.
Hopefully, this list of 10 HANDY HYPHEN RULES answered most of your questions. Please feel free to share!
Laura Fineberg Cooper
3/1/2020 01:29:49 pm
Very handy! Now if I could just memorize these tips, I'd be all set!
3/1/2020 02:14:46 pm
This is SOO helpful Laura!
3/1/2020 03:05:00 pm
Dear Marcia and Kirsti,
5/29/2023 08:16:14 pm
Very informative and useful. I was clarified when to use hyphen. Thank you so much.
5/29/2023 08:22:58 pm
Thank you, Sarah!
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