Hyphens – how to use them correctly

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Hyphens – definition

hyphens Hyphens are short horizontal marks (shorter than the dash).

redbtn Hyphens are used to show a link between words.


Examples

mother-in-law
re-enter
matter-of-fact
author-critic
president-elect
co-operation


Use

redbtn Hyphens are used to join words when forming compounds.

redbtn They are also used after prefixes – especially where it is necessary to avoid an awkward or confusing sequence of letters (as in re-enter).

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

a fifteenth-century manuscript
in the fifteenth century

redbtn NB! The hyphen is not the same thing as the longer dash ( ) but this distinction is rarely made in the UK.

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

two-year-old cats
two year-old cats

redbtn They should also be used to distinguish terms which are spelled identically, but which have different meanings:

reformation – change for the better
re-formation – to form again

recover – to regain control
re-cover – to cover again

resign – to stand down
re-sign – to sign again

redbtn 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.)

bath-tub -> bathtub
book-shelf -> bookshelf
club-house -> clubhouse

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

Word processor
Word-processor
Wordprocessor

redbtn Remember that the hyphen is not the same thing as the longer dash. A distinction between the two is commonly made in the US, but not in the UK.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003


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