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Saying "hi" to our friend the Hyphen

Saying "hi" to our friend the Hyphen

Author: Jennifer Bornes

You will be able to define "hyphen"

You will examine how hyphens are used and construct examples

You will identify correct and incorrect usage


This lesson reviews the correct usage of our friendly punctuation mark, the hyphen.

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Use the Hyphen to Form Words

Once you understand the function of a hyphen, you don't have to shy away from using this handy little connector to form compound words.


1. Compound adjectives

"When two or more words serve together as a single modifier before a noun, a hyphen forms the modifying words clearly into a unit."

So what does this mean in plain English?

When there are two adjectives, or descriptive words, used to modify (describe) a noun, the hyphen forms the modifying words clearly into a unit. Think of it as a happy friendship between to modifying words! They are joining together as a single unit to modify the noun, and the hyphen tells the reader.


She is a well-known teacher. Some Spanish-speaking teachers work as tutors.

However, when the compound adjective follows the noun, the hyphen is unnecessary.

The teacher is well known. Many tutors are Spanish speaking.

2. Also, hyphens are unnecessary when the compound modifier contains a -ly adverb, such as the words poorly, lovely, happily.

poorly written paragraphs / lovely red roses / happily colored vases

Hyphens also tell us when to mentally join more than one compound adjective, such as:

School-age children should have eight- or nine-o'clock bedtimes on a school night.

3. Hyphens help us with numbers, too. They join the numerator and denominator of fractions, such as those commonly seen in cooking.

One-half cup / three-fourths pound / two-thirds stick of butter

When a hyphenated number is part of a compound adjective before a noun, join all of the parts of the modifier with hyphens.

sixty-three-years / twenty-two-foot wall



Source: The Little, Brown Compact Handbook 7th Ed. pg. 301-302

How to Use Hyphens | Grammar Lessons

Source: Howcast, published May 14, 2014