I’ll be completely honest, hyphens are one on the punctuation marks that slip by me way too often. Which means that I tend to shy away from using them at all and end up unbalanced in the other direction, with no hyphens when I need them… so, let’s talk about hyphens today!
First of all, there are three symbols that look very similar: the hyphen, the en dash, and the em dash. The hyphen is the one symbol on your keyboard, and you shouldn’t need a shortcut to input it into the document. They hyphen is used to join words together, or to separate the syllables of one word (which I’ll most likely talk about later on).
When do you want t join words together? Mostly when the two words behaving as adjectives are before a noun.
- The rock-hard cake.
- The greenish-yellow light.
- He jury-rigged the room.
All of these descriptions have two words acting as adjectives before a noun (cake, light, and room).
1. Hyphenate your phrasal adjectives.
Be careful when two or more words work together as a unit to modify a noun. Some exceptions apply, but for the most part they’ll be hyphenated. unless certain exceptions apply). So a hotel’s door sign advising the staff not to disturb the guests would be a do-not-disturb sign. A company that is 25 years old is a 25-year-old company. There are some exceptions:
2. No spaces are needed with hyphens
- The daily write-in was attended by 3-4 people. (correct)
- The daily write-in was attended by 3 (#) people. (incorrect)
- The daily write-in was attended by 3 – 4 people. (incorrect)
3. Don’t use a hyphen for -ly adverbs (but do use with least / less / more / most)
- She bought the brightly colored shirt.
- Xe said the quickly memorised presentation and didn’t forget anything.
- He used that little-known fact to make people admired him at the party.
No hyphens needed for sentences like those above!
4. Phrases with proper nouns don’t need hyphens
- The American clothing items when through Narita airport.
- Japanese businessmen clog up the train lines every weekday starting from around 16:00.
- The Canadian book business had a meeting early in the morning.
5. Don’t use hyphens if they come after the noun…sometimes
As with many grammar rules there are always exceptions, and in this case the exception is usually when the words themselves are spelled with a hyphen. I follow The Chicago Manual of Style and use Merriam Webster to check on spelling.
- After NaNoWriMo finished on December 1st, I was up-to-date on my emails.
- A person with high self-esteem is sometimes hard to find nowadays.
- Talking about a company or service through word-of-mouth is helpful, hopefully for both the person and the company involved.
As usual, it depends on how you want to use the word:
- I would love an ice-cream cone. -> ice-cream has a hyphen since it’s acting as an adjective for the noun.
- I would love an ice cream. -> no hyphen since this is a noun.
- We all scream for ice cream!
- We all scream for ice-cream cake!
Hopefully this was a helpful introduction to hyphens, and I’m sure that I’ll be revisiting this topic in the future (since we didn’t even get to when hyphens are used in syllables, and why!)
Is there a bit of grammar you dislike most? Do you see a mistake I should fix? Leave a comment and let me know!