Hyphen

Hyphens

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.

Content

  • Compound Nouns
  • Adjectives and Adverbs
  • Prefixes
  • Fractions

Compound Nouns

Use a hyphen with some compound nouns.

Example:
Check-out is at 10:00 am.
I like chocolate ice-cream.

Info

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 hypenated. Check a dictionary if you are unsure.

Example:
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.

Example:
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.

Example:
a little-used bicycle.

a bicycle which has not been used much

but:
a little used bicycle.

a used bicycle that is small

See also: Commas: Adjectives and Adverbs

Prefixes

Don’t use hyphens with words formed with a word and short prefix.

Example:
prepay
underdog
declassify

However, some words with the prefix re meaning again require a hyphen to avoid confusion. Compare the following:

Example:
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.

Example:
pre-empt
re-examine
co-operate

Fractions

Use hyphens with written fractions.

Example:
Two-thirds of a cup of flour
Three-quarters of the crowd had already left.