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Grammar Guru Part 7: Hyphenation Rules

Hyphenation was once used to break words apart when writing required part of a word to appear on the next line. In many instances, this is no longer an issue. Today’s word processing programs automatically move the entire word down to the following line without the writer having to do anything. This isn’t to say that hyphens are useless and archaic. A primary function of hyphens that remains is their ability to show a connection between words.

The forward-thinking company disrupted its industry. 

One source of confusion that hyphens generate is the thought that they are interchangeable with dashes. Dashes, which are longer lines, are often used to set off a phrase or word and provide emphasis. Using a hyphen shows the reader that there is a connection between the words surrounding it. A hyphen is used without spaces whereas a dash makes use of spaces to add the necessary emphasis.

Around 15-20 people — most of whom are on her soccer team — attended Felecia’s party. 

Hyphens are also used when writing out compound numbers from 21 through 99.

fifty-six red balloons

A compound modifier, which is a compound adjective that occurs before the noun it modifies, typically requires a hyphen so its meaning is clear to the reader.

The raven-headed dragon prepared to take flight.

My city has retained its small-town charm over the years. 

When writing compound modifiers that share a base, it’s often more concise to omit all the bases except the last one.

A rain- and wind-resistant coat is required for this job.

About the author

Katie S has been writing for many years, either for academic reasons or for her own pleasure. She has been a freelance writer, concentrating on crafting concise, interesting and exciting copy for a variety of clients in many different industries, including the fields of law, medicine, sports and more. 

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Freelancer Katie S

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