Hyphens [ – ]

Hyphens [ – ]

Hyphens between words

1) To check if a compound noun is two words, one word, or hyphenated, you must look it up in the dictionary. As a rule, if you can’t find the word in the dictionary, treat the nouns as separate words.

For example: policeman, police officer, editor-in-chief

2) Compound verbs are usually either hyphenated or written as one word. As a rule, if you do not find the verb in the dictionary, hyphenate it.

For example:

  • The board chose to set-off the cost against the purchase price.
  • We were notified that management will downsize the organisation next year.

3) Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea.

For example:

  • He is a well-known litigator.
  • But: The litigator is well known.

Hyphens with "ly" words

When the first word of the two-word modifier ends in ly, hyphenate if the ly word acts as one idea with the second word AND the lyword can be used alone with the noun (i.e., the ly word is an adjective).

For example:

  • friendly-looking man -- Friendly modifies looking and is an adjective describing man.
  • friendly little girl-- No hyphen is used because friendly does not act as one idea with little.
  • brightly lit room-- Brightly is an adverb because it could not be used to describe room.

When the word "and" can be inserted between the ly word and the next adjective, use a comma between them.

For example: A friendly, intelligent receptionist helped me find the conference room.

Hyphens with prefixes

1) The current trend is to do away with unnecessary hyphens. Therefore, attach prefixes
and suffixes onto root words.

For example: noncompliance, copayment, semiconscious, fortyish Exceptions:

  • shell-like (Avoid three l’s in a row.)
  • non-civil service position (Use the hyphen with compound words or words already hyphenated.)

2) Hyphenate prefixes when they come before proper nouns.

For example: anti-European

3) Hyphenate prefixes ending in a or i only when the second word begins with an a or i.

For example:

  • ultra-ambitious
  • semi-invalid

4) Double e’s and double o’s are usually made into one word.

For example: preemployment, coordinate Exceptions: de-emphasize, co-owner

Note: There are numerous exceptions between British and American spellings. A dictionary or spell checker should be consulted at all times.

5) When a prefix ends in one vowel - a, e, i, o or u - and a second word begins with a different vowel, generally attach them without a hyphen.

For example: antiaircraft, proactive

Note: There are numerous exceptions between British and American spellings. A dictionary or spell checker should be consulted at all times.

6) Hyphenate all words beginning with self except for selfish and selfless.

For example: self-respecting attorney, self-addressed envelope

7) Use a hyphen with the prefix ex.

For example: The ex-chairman joined another company.