When should you use a hyphen?

Knowing the answer to ‘when should you use a hyphen?’ is a common problem for anyone who writes.

“If you take hyphens too seriously, you will surely go mad.”

 (Oxford University Press style manual).

When should you use a hyphen? Most often, hyphens are used to connect words that go together known as compounds e.g. sugar-free.

But not all compounds are hyphenated. Some still have a space separating them and others are completely joined to appear like one word e.g. bookstore.

So knowing the answer to ‘when should you use a hyphen?’ is a common problem for anyone who writes.

One useful thing for you to consider is where the word-combo sits in the sentence. If it is in the beginning to middle of the sentence, a compound will often have a hyphen. This is in contrast to ones that sit at the end when they will be without.

e.g. “these are long-term benefits”

vs “these are benefits over the long term”

To add to the complexity, there are many other instances when hyphens can be appropriate. Here are a few hyphen pointers to steer you:

  • A hyphen should generally be avoided for short prefixes, e.g. beginning “de…”, “re…” etc. That said, sometimes they can be used to separate identical letters like in “re-entry”.
  • A hyphen is helpful when using adjectives made up of two or more words, e.g. day-to-day, state-of-the-art…
  • A hyphen can be a useful tool to avoid ambiguity, for example the red-hot peppers were an unusual shade of green.

At On Point Copywriting, we use the wonderful Economist Style Guide as our first point of reference for grammar. But even this guide states that, ultimately, it’s best to check a dictionary if you are unsure whether to use a hyphen or not.

Need more help with hyphens?

If you write a lot for your business and don’t have time to check that hyphens and other grammar points are correct, why not use a copywriting service. On Point Copywriting can ensure that your comms are in tip top shape. Give us a call on 0117 244 0116.

And don’t forget – to keep your sanity, don’t get too hung up on hyphens!

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Kaine Shutler