Punctuation Marks: Hyphen

Hyphens are used to join two or more words that are used as a single unit, to join continuous numbers, to connect some prefixes and suffixes with their nouns, to divide words at the end of a line, to link two last names, and to avoid confusing or awkward word constructions.

Compound Numbers and Fractions

Hyphens are used with compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine and with fractions used as adjectives. However, when fractions serve as nouns, no hyphen is used.

    • twenty-one gun salute
    • sixty-five and over
    • a two-thirds majority
    • a glass three-fifths full (But do not hyphenate three fifths when used as a noun, such as three fifths of the voters.)

Continuous Numbers

Hyphens are used to link dates of birth and death, pages of material, scores of games, and other instances in which the relationship between the numbers needs to be shown.

    • Christoper Reeve, “Superman” (1952-2004)
    • Read pages 15-32 in your statistics book.
    • The Bears beat the Rams 21-0.
    • All the children ages 8-12 are eligible for camp.

Prefixes and Suffixes

Prefixes ex, self, and all and the suffix elect always take a hyphen whether they are used as modifiers or as nouns. Hyphens also are used with all prefixes before proper nouns and adjectives.

    • self-esteem
    • secretary-elect
    • all-Canadian team
    • ex-director
    • all-encompassing
    • pro-French

Compound Adjectives

When compound adjectives are used before the noun, they are hyphenated. When they follow the noun, no hyphen is used. If one of the modifiers is an adverb ending in ly, do not use a hyphen in the compound adjective.

    • a decision-making process = a process for decision making
    • a well-run program = a program that is well run
    • a city-owned business = a business that is city owned
    • organically-grown fruit = fruit that is organically grown
    • publicly-owned parks = parks that are publicly owned

Word Division

Hyphens are used to divide words at the end of a line as a reminder that the rest of the word is to follow. Words cannot be divided arbitrarily but only between syllables.

We were almost in Niles Town-
ship when our car broke down.

Sam didn’t really want to con-
tinue the trip, but I did.

Hyphenated Names

Hyphens are used to join two last names.

    • Karen Norridge-Adams
    • Mr. Michael Harrington-Kelly
    • the Henderson-Smythes
    • Mr. and Mrs. Burns-Schroeder

To Avoid Confusion

Use hyphens to prevent confusion or awkwardness in sentences.

    • re-creation (prevents confusion with recreation)
    • anti-intellectual (avoids awkwardness of antiintellectual)
    • sub-subentry (avoids confusion of subsubentry)