What is a Hyphen?

A hyphen is a punctuation symbol that is used to connect two words. It serves a few functions, namely providing readability assistance, connecting compound terms, and showing word breaks when typing out phone numbers or birthdays.

For example ‘mother-in-law’ and ‘twelve-year-old’ are both hyphenated words.

Hyphens can make complex descriptions easier to read and can even help search engines better understand the meaning of a sentence.

Ultimately hyphens provide an effective way to combine and separate words when needed.

Hyphen Rules

Learning these four critical rules when using a hyphen will help communication become clearer and easier. With these four rules firmly entrenched in one’s grammar skillset, any English speaker can properly construct sentences with ease!

IndicationFirstly, an apostrophe is generally used to indicate possession or omissions of letters/words.
PlacementSecondly, commas should be placed where you would naturally pause while reading a sentence aloud.
UsageThirdly, colons should be used to introduce a list or explain a sentence after it has begun.
ClausesLastly, semicolons are used to join two independent clauses that are closely related.
Hyphen Rules and Examples Chart
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Hyphen Examples

Hyphens are a common tool used to join words together in order to create hyphenated compounds, such as “mother-in-law” or “editor-in-chief”.

Hyphens are also frequently used when writing out a number between twenty-one and ninety-nine, like forty-two.

To hyphenate a word at the end of a line for readability purposes is also common practice; however, hyphens may not be used to complete words spliced across multiple lines.

Finally, hyphens can be used when writing compound adjectives including two or more other words, such as “long-term” or “state-of-the-art”.

Knowing how and when to properly use hyphens is an important skill for any writer.

Hyphen Exercises with Answers

Insert the hyphen where you think it belongs.


  • She bicycled across the park.
  • Thirty-five dollars
  • Business-related forms.
  • Three-year-old toddler.
  • The hyphenation process.


  • She bicycled across the park.
  • Thirtyfive dollars
  • Businessrelated forms.
  • Threeyearold toddler.
  • The hyphenationprocess.

Hyphen List

Time frames“In her 2009-2010 school year, she won several awards.”
Emphasize an idea“It was quite an overwhelming experience – he had no idea what to expect.”
Zones“The train times work on a Monday-Friday schedule.”
Separators“You can pick between red, blue, or green – which one do you like best?”
Elaboration“He chose the cheaper option – much to the dismay of his parents.”
Correct Hyphen Usage Example Table

Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

For English language learners, hyphens can be a tricky concept to master, but it is an important part of mastering the nuances of the English language.

One effective way to learn how hyphens are used in different contexts is to immerse oneself in English; actively reading and writing as much as possible.

Pay attention to how hyphens are used in different books, articles, and conversations with native speakers, and try to match those works when writing. This will help develop a natural feeling for hyphens which will come in handy for essays and other written tasks that require accuracy within the language.

Additionally, relying on a dictionary or grammar guide can assist one in applying accurate hyphenation when writing rule-driven content.

Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand how to use the em dash and ellipsis.

Common Mistakes Made by English Learners

English learners often make the same mistakes when trying to learn the language, which can be easily avoided with some simple tips. Oftentimes basic grammar mistakes occur due to a lack of understanding of certain punctuation marks.

One of the most common is hyphen usage. Hyphens can connect two words together, such as a compound noun, and hyphens can also mean that there is a break between syllables in a single word. Understanding hyphens correctly can help add clarity to your writing and help you avoid common grammar misinterpretations.

Understanding hyphen correct usage will not only improve your writing but will assist other people as they read your work and enable them to be more engaged.

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Common Mistakes:

1. Incorrect Tense

Why it Happens:

Not having a firm grasp on correct punctuation marks can confuse your statements. This can cause you to use the wrong punctuation marks and misconstrue your message.

Correct Use:

When speaking English, you would use punctuation marks that reflect the subject in question. Keep context in mind when selecting your punctuation marks.

2. Lack of punctuation marks

Why it Happens:

The easiest mistake is leaving out punctuation marks when needed. Failing to use these in phrases can lead others to misinterpret what you are trying to express.

Correct Use:

Punctuation marks join words together – for example, ‘heavy-handed’ or ‘ever-sure’.

3. Inconsistency

Why it Happens:

People forget how they described something before and change the context in a contradictory manner. This confuses the reader.

Correct Use:

Be sure that your punctuation marks remain consistent throughout your writing. There should be no sudden shifts.

4. Incorrect Usage

Why it Happens:

You don’t know which punctuation marks to use, so you use too many and it confuses the statement.

Correct Use:

Using too many punctuation marks can make your writing sound monotonous and can also lead to viewers losing interest. Therefore it is important to focus on expressing yourself clearly and effectively with them.

Tips to Avoid Common Mistakes:

While hyphenating words may seem trivial, forgetting to hyphenate can confuse readers and signify a lack of attention to detail.

  • To avoid such common mistakes, double-check hyphenated words in dictionaries and style manuals to ensure accuracy.
  • Additionally, remember that hyphens are not always necessary; often two hyphenated words together can be made into a single word—or vice versa.
  • It’s essential to take the time to look up hyphen dilemmas instead of using a hyphen any time you come across two or more words close together.

Getting into this habit will help improve the overall flow and readability of your text.

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Learning Hyphen Use Strategies and Best Practices

Writing hyphens correctly is an important skill for any writer to master. Not only do hyphens help sentences flow more smoothly, but they also ensure that your readers fully understand the meaning you are trying to convey. When used poorly hyphens can lead to confusion or miscommunication in writing.

By understanding hyphen use strategies and best practices, you can rest assured knowing that your hyphens are used appropriately and will not sabotage the impactful message of your written work. Knowing when to hyphenate and when not to hyphenate can be tricky, but with a bit of careful attention, it can make all the difference! Keep reading for more useful tips:

Tip 1: Study a List

Why it helps:

Learning the various punctuation marks and using them properly in speaking and writing is easier than it seems with daily practice. A list can simplify this process and make it seem less daunting.

Daily Life Example:

The best way to learn to use punctuation marks correctly is to study a list of words and their usage, and then practice writing sentences with them.

Tip 2: Practice Reading

Why it helps:

Exposing yourself to punctuation marks hidden between other words can help you identify them faster and with more accuracy.

Daily Life Example:

To ensure that you understand how frequently a type of punctuation mark should be used it’s important to practice reading with them as well, so the meanings become clear. So keep a book of your choice on hand and highlight every punctuation mark you come across.

Tip 3: Everyday Conversations

Why it helps:

By applying the punctuation marks exercise to everyday written conversations, you’ll find these words easy to remember and use in the near future.

Daily Life Example:

Take your time when speaking to people. Take note of the grammar they use, and try and repeat them back in different contexts. You can also do this from the comfort of your home by recording yourself or using an AI assistant.

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Hyphen Frequently Asked Questions

The hyphen, also known as the dash or hyphen-minus, is a distinct symbol commonly used to join words or create hyphenated phrases. It exists in almost every language and can help connect numbers, words, syllables, or phrases.

The hyphen, also known as the dash or hyphen-minus, is a distinct symbol commonly used to join words or create hyphenated phrases. It exists in almost every language and can help connect numbers, words, syllables, or phrases.

Generally, hyphens are used to separate a word wrapped into two lines in a sentence, making it more easily readable for the reader. Interestingly hyphens can also be used to change the meaning of certain words – such as combining “nation” and “wide” into “nationwide”, making it distinct from an adjective describing two nations or an adjective describing wide width.

Hyphens are used for various writing purposes, such as connecting words, expressions, or clauses that modify one another. They also help to connect hyphenated compounds and indicate word breaks at the end of a line.

Hyphens are used for various writing purposes, such as connecting words, expressions, or clauses that modify one another. They also help to connect hyphenated compounds and indicate word breaks at the end of a line.

Dash can be a very useful tool in writing that helps group words or phrases, set off interrupting material, and indicate omitted letters. There are two different types of dashes: hyphens and en dashes.

Hyphens are used for creating hyphenated compounds, such as “mother-in-law” and linking up certain words such as numbers (e.g., “forty-five”), while en dashes join together more complex words or phrases to show a range of time or value (e.g., “May 11–15”).

Although dashes can enhance a piece of writing when used appropriately, it is important to note that hyphens and en dashes should not be used interchangeably; each type has its own specific purpose that should be taken into consideration when utilizing them.

A hyphen (-) and an underscore (_) may look similar, but they have distinct purposes. For example, hyphens are used to indicate a range of numbers, such as from 1-10. Hyphens can also be used to connect words in order to form a single term, such as “mother-in-law.”

On the other hand, an underscore is traditionally used for spaces between words in URLs or document titles. Additionally, underscores can be used as a substitute for parentheses when linking two phrases together. It’s important to keep hyphen and underscore functions in mind when writing online content or formatting documents in order to ensure the accuracy of your work.

A hyphenated word is a combination of two separate words united by a hyphen. An example would be the phrase “full-time,” which combines the words “full” and “time” with a hyphen in between them. Hyphens can also be used to connect two or more words acting as one adjective, such as in the phrase “state-of-the-art,” where hyphens are used to join three separate words.

They’re also valuable for breaking long words over multiple lines when writing by hand or using a typewriter. Finally, hyphens provide clear and precise punctuation for writing numbers or expressing fractions. To make sure hyphens are used correctly, it’s important to consult a trusted source such as the AP Stylebook.

Some other words for hyphens and their many uses include hyphenated form, vertical position, soft hyphen, compound modifier, an oblique hyphen, adjectives by hyphens, Unicode hyphen, unambiguous hyphens, discretionary hyphens, double hyphens, marginal hyphens, non-breaking hyphens, optional hyphens, regular hyphens, sublinear hyphens, hyphen characters, integral hyphens, hyphenation styles, closed compounds, English compound nouns, miscellaneous compounds, non-breaking space, oversized space, space between sentences, segmentation rules, and hyphenated surnames.

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