A hyphen is a punctuation mark that joins words or phrases. Here are some examples of its uses:
Joining two or more words to form an adjective:
- Door-to-door selling
- Business-to-business marketing
- School-going children
- Easy-to-use recipe
- Long-term insurance
- Bullet-proof vest
Hyphenate before the noun but not after:
- A 70-year-old woman (an adjective phrase).
- My son is three years old.
- Compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
- Fractions: three-quarters, two-thirds.
- Numbers that are part of compound adjectives: 500-metre race; 40-hour working week.
To void ambiguity
The meaning of words can be different with or without a hyphen:
- I need to recover the money my brother borrowed from me (get it back) before I can afford to re-cover my dining chairs (put on new covers).
- Hyphens are used to indicate the division of a word at the end of a line.
- Hyphens can also indicate a missing element: medium- to long-term.
The evolution of words: Sometimes hyphenated, sometimes not
The prefix “e” stands for “electronic” in e-book, e-reader, and e-mail. But writing changes. The contemporary way to write “email” is without the hyphen.
- Many new words transition from two words, to hyphenated, and then to one word: online, website, worldwide.
- Sometimes they even skip the hyphenated phase: data base/database; health care/healthcare.
- Often both options are still used: co-operation and cooperation.
When there are different spelling options, decide which one you prefer and use it consistently.
© Andrea Paulsen