Hyphens Study Guide
This lesson will show you how to use hyphens to divide or join words so you can be sure to convey the correct meaning to your audience.
YOU CAN USE HYPHENS in many ways: to divide a word at the end of a line, to join numbers and some compound words, and to attach prefixes to other words. Keep in mind that although most prefixes are joined directly to words without the need for hyphens, there are instances when you will need to use a hyphen to add a prefix. Joining two or more words, however, often calls for the use of a hyphen, especially if the phrase will act as an adjective.
Here are a few quick rules that can help you remember when to use hyphens. You should always use a hyphen:
- when words are used together to describe family relationships or job titles: sister-in-law, mother-in-law, editor-in-chief, sergeant-at-arms
- when joining a prefix to a capitalized word: post-World War II, un-American, Mid-Atlantic
- when forming an adjective that appears before a noun: first-rate hotel, five-star restaurant, well-built house, but not when the adjective follows the noun: the hotel was first rate
- to form ethnic designations: African-American, Chinese-American, Indo-European
- to link certain prefixes, such as vice-, ex-, great-, all-, or self-, to base words: vice-chancellor, ex-husband, great-grandfather, all-encompassing, self-employed
- to link the suffix -elect to base words: president-elect, chairman-elect
- to write out fractions: one-half, one-third, three-fourths
- to write out the numbers from 21 to 99: twenty-one to ninety-nine
- to combine numbers with nouns: fifty-cent ride, one-year term
- to divide words at the end of a line of writing (here, words must be divided either at a syllable break or between double consonants: ap-pear-ance, sim-pli-fy, re-frig-er-a-tor)
TIP: All words have one or more syllables, or individual spoken units. To determine where the syllable breaks are in a word that you need to hyphenate at the end of a line, tap your finger or clap your hands for each spoken unit of the word. For example, let's take the word important. Tap as you say each syllable: im (tap) por (tap) tant (tap). The word has three syllables: im-por-tant. You can hyphenate important at either of the two syllable breaks: im-portant or impor-tant.
You can also use hyphens to form compound words whose spelling would otherwise appear awkward. For example, if you wanted to describe a set of buttons as looking like shells, you might say they were shell-like. Without the hyphen, the new word would have an awkward three ls in a row: shelllike. The hyphen makes the word easier to read and understand.
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
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