Through the years, hyphens have diminished in use. Its decreasing role in written English stems from at least a couple sources. For one, it looks an awful lot like the dash and the minus sign. When writers feel incapable of distinguishing between the three, they avoid them. Another reason for the hyphen’s decline arises from the inconsistent hyphenation guidelines prescribed by various writing style manuals. This blog aims to refresh your mind about some of the contexts in which the hyphen should be used.
compound adjectives before a noun
Compound adjectives can occur in four different ways: noun + adjective, noun + participle, adjective + participle, and adverb + adjective.
- noun + adjective : I love to eat oven-ready meals.
- noun + participle : He preferred using computer-generated drawings.
- adjective + participle : Sadly, I fell prey to a smooth-talking salesman.
- adverb + adjective : She had more-important reasons for not attending the conference.
Note that when the adverb in an “adverb + adjective” ends in an –ly, no hyphenation is used. It should also be noted that context must be taken into consideration when determining whether or not to add a hyphen. If “more-important” expresses the meaning of something being more important, then add the hyphen. If suggesting that additional reasons will follow, then there should be no hyphen. For example, the above example of “more-important” means that whatever she attended to that precluded her attendance at the conference was of greater importance. If the sentence wishes to communicate that she had multiple reasons for not attending the conference, then you would write “She had more important reasons for not attending the conference.
prefixes ending in a vowel before a word beginning with the same vowel
This rule protects both the readability and pronunciation of the word. The presence of the hyphen encourages the reader to approach the word as two separate yet conceptually unified parts. If also assures that an individual, when reading the word out loud, will articulate each occasion of the vowel.
- The president’s speech pre-empted the normal television programming.
- His goals are rather ultra-ambitious.
- He argued an anti-industrial position.
connecting numbers and words
This rule applies when communicating weights, and measures.
- I have a two-year-old.
- She put 3 14.5-ounce cans of diced tomatoes in her chili.
- Our most popular mayor was our three-term mayor.
verb + preposition used as a noun
The English language employs many compound or phrasal verbs.
- She hands out samples to the shoppers.
- My child breaks down when he’s too tired.
However, when used as a noun, the verb and preposition are joined with a hyphen.
- Some people refuse to accept a hand-out.
- My car has had too many break-downs.
These are just a few of the contexts in which hyphens should or could be used. Take some time to verify that you have neither over-used nor under-used hyphens. Type the phrase into a search bar and see what comes back. Chances are that you will see it both with and without the hyphen. At that point, consider your audience. Do your readers prefer an informal or a formal style? Leave the hyphen out, and the text will appeal to your less formal readers. Leave it in, and impress your more formal reading audience with your sophisticated handling of the hyphen.