Hyphens: Correct Usage Between Words

In my experience, usage of the hyphen both in formal and informal writing is often haphazard. Sure, it’s possible that your readers will not notice (or care) that your hyphenation is incorrect (or missing), but when it comes to writing in professional situations, your credibility may be at stake.

This Tips & Tricks post will focus on the correct usage of the hyphen when it’s placed in between two words.

Let’s examine some common hyphenation rules and examples to illustrate them:

  1. Numbers:
    • Compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine:
      • The lady who lived in the house at the corner of my street was known to have twenty-three cats.
    • Fractions:
      • He was out of town on business for about one-fifth of each year.

  2. Adjectives that come before a noun and operate as one modifier:
    • The right-side window was broken.
    • Jerry’s long-awaited promotion offer was given to him on Friday.

  3. Compound nouns: In the case of compound nouns, it’s best to check a dictionary (or http://www.dictionary.com/) to see if a compound noun should be two separate words, one whole word (without a hyphen) or hyphenated.
    • That new horror movie isn’t for the faint-hearted.
    • I borrowed my mom’s hand-held blow dryer when I visited her for the weekend.
  4. To provide clarity: In confusing sentences, a hyphen may be used to clarify words that should go together, even though the words are technically separate.
    • My first grade school teacher was Mrs. Smith. or My first-grade school teacher was Mrs. Smith.
    • I saw thirteen odd dogs. or I saw thirteen-odd dogs.

  5. Between the repetition of a letter:
    • Her sister lived on a co-op with several friends; they grew and shared produce on land they all owned.
    • The snake re-emerged from the pool of mud, and Jake screamed.
    • EXCEPTIONS: There are several exceptions to this. For instance, the words overrule and underrate should not be hyphenated.
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