Hyphens in essays

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1. Hyphens in essays are most commonly used to join words when forming compounds:

mother-in-law     president-elect

matter-of-fact     author-critic

2. They are also used after prefixes – especially where it is necessary to avoid an awkward or confusing sequence of letters:

re-enter    co-operation    pre-ignition

3. Notice the difference between a compound word and the same terms used separately:

a fifteenth-century manuscript     in the fifteenth century

4. Hyphens should be used where it is necessary to avoid ambiguity:

two-year-old cats   — two year-old cats

In the first case, all the cats are two years old. In the second case, two cats are each one year old.

5. Hyphens should also be used to distinguish terms which are spelled identically, but which have different meanings:

reformation  re-formation
recover   re-cover
resign   re-sign

6. Hyphens are used when new terms are formed from compounds, but they are dropped when the compound is accepted into common usage. (This process is usually more rapid in the USA than in Europe.)

bathtub —   was once bath-tub

bookshelf —   was once book-shelf

clubhouse —   was once club-house

7. This phenomenon is currently visible in computer technology,where all three forms of a term may co-exist:

Word processor —   Word-processor —   Wordprocessor

© Roy Johnson 2003

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