When to use a hyphen in English
The hyphen is mostly used to form compound nouns. There are, however, a few other functions which are explained in the tabs below. Be careful not to confuse the hyphen with the dash, the hyphen is shorter.
Use a hyphen with some compound nouns.
- Check-out is at 10:00 am.
- I like chocolate ice-cream.
There aren’t really any rules as to when compound nouns are written together (sunrise), with a space (bus stop), or hyphenated (mother-in-law). Nouns formed with more than two words are usually hyphenated. Check a dictionary if you are unsure.
- There was a beautiful sunrise this morning.
- The bus stop is across the road.
- My mother-in-law doesn’t like strawberries.
Adjectives and Adverbs
Use hyphens in adjectives and adverbs formed from two or more words.
- Laura is a well-dressed woman.
- The hospital is ill-equipped and dangerous.
- Amy is a 7-year-old pupil.
Use hyphens between adjectives to avoid ambiguity.
- a little-used bicycle.
a bicycle which has not been used much
- a little used bicycle.
a used bicycle that is small
See comma for more information about punctuation with adjectives and adverbs.
Don’t use hyphens with words formed with a word and short prefix.
However, some words with the prefix re meaning again require a hyphen to avoid confusion. Compare the following:
- Can you re-sort that box of toys?
We stayed in a resort on the beach.
- My mother re-covered her old couch, now it looks brand new.
Lucy recovered quickly from her cold.
Sometimes a hyphen is used to separate identical letters, especially in British English.
Use hyphens with written fractions.
- Two-thirds of a cup of flour
- Three-quarters of the crowd had already left.