Hyphen (-) When to Use a Hyphen with Useful Examples

What is a hyphen? Learn how and when to use a hyphen (-) with useful punctuation rules and example sentences. The hyphen is the shortest of the three horizontal marks that may be used in the middle of a sentence. It is shorter than an en dash (–) or an em dash (—).

The Hyphen (-)

What is a hyphen?

It is a short horizontal line (-) used as a punctuation mark. It has three primary functions: to connect two words and make them into a compound, to separate parts of a word at the end of a line, and to separate a prefix or suffix from a root word. The punctuation mark should not be confused with dashes (–, —), which are generally longer.

When to use a hyphen

It connects two words into a compound word. These are of many types, and the best way to decide whether you need a hyphen is to consult a dictionary.

Examples:

  • There have been a lot of break-ins in this neighborhood recently.
  • Ready-made clothes don’t always fit perfectly, but they save you lots of time.
  • The first time I saw you, I knew immediately that our love was heaven-sent.
  • The Toyota Camry is one of the best-selling cars in the world.
  • Guidance counselors can help with decision-making about universities.

It is used to divide a word into two syllables at the end of a line of text so that a long word does not disturb the spacing of the line where it is used.

Examples:

  • Nighttime is a good time to listen for distant radio stations, although you may experience inter-
    mittent interruptions due to changing atmospheric conditions.
  • Bags of cat litter come in many sizes, but the 50-
    lb. model is the largest one that most people can lift comfortably.
  • When I traveled to Africa, I had a lot of really eye-
    opening experiences, like seeing lions and tigers.
  • Although the country was eager to showcase its strong democracy, rioting after the elec-
    tion killed and injured many people.

If a word at the end of a line already has a hyphen, try to break the word at that punctuation mark rather than introducing another one.

WRONG:

  • With new customers such as Vietnam emerging, airliners have become an important export-pro-
    ducing sector of the French economy.

RIGHT:

  • With new customers such as Vietnam emerging, airliners have become an important export-
    producing sector of the French economy.

Often words with a prefix or suffix will use this mark to separate the prefix or suffix from the root word. Again, if you’re not sure whether a word with a prefix or suffix uses a hyphen, check a dictionary. In many cases, you can use this punctuation mark or omit it, but always use a hyphen with “ex-” and “self-.”

  • ex-wife
  • pre-diabetic

OR

OR

  • semiautonomus

Other usages

Some people join their surnames with a hyphen to create a new surname upon marriage.

  • Catherine Zeta-Jones is one of today’s most successful actresses.

They are generally used when spelling out fractions in text.

  • More than one-quarter of our income is going toward car payments. This has to stop.
  • Two-thirds of cats react strongly to catnip, but the others don’t care about it at all.

Compounds of more than two words

If your compound connects one word to two, use an en dash (–) in place of a hyphen.

  • A New York–based filmmaker

But if there are three (or more) independent words, you can use a hyphen to connect them all.

  • A never-before-seen phenomenon

(-) Hyphen Infographic

Hyphen (-) When to Use a Hyphen

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