By: Austin D. Reymundo

Usage In English

Hyphens are mostly used to break single words into parts, or to join ordinarily separate words into single words. Spaces should not be placed between a hyphen and either of the words it connects except when using a suspended or "hanging" hyphen (nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers). A definitive collection of hyphenation rules does not exist; rather, different manuals of style prescribe different usage guidelines. The rules of style that apply to dashes and hyphens have evolved to support ease of reading in complex constructions; editors often accept deviations from them that will support, rather than hinder, ease of reading.


When flowing text, it is sometimes preferable to break a word in half so that it continues on another line rather than moving the entire word to the next line. The word may be divided at the nearest breakpoints between syllables, and a hyphen inserted to indicate that the letters form a word fragment, rather than a full word. This allows more efficient use of paper, allows more regular appearance of right-side margins without requiring spacing adjustments, reduces the problem of rivers, and avoids the need to erase long words begun near the end of a line that do not fit. This kind of hyphenation is most useful when the width of the column of text is very narrow.


Compound Modifiers

Compound modifiers are groups of two or more words that jointly modify the meaning of another word. When a compound modifier other than an adverb-adjective combination appears before a term, the compound modifier is often hyphenated to prevent misunderstanding, such as in American-football player or little-celebrated paintings. Without the hyphen, there is potential confusion about whether the writer means a "player of American football" or an "American player of football" and whether the writer means paintings that are 'little celebrated' or 'celebrated paintings' that are little. Compound modifiers can extend to three or more words, as in ice-cream-flavored candy, and can be adverbial as well as adjectival (spine-tingling frightening). However, if the compound is a familiar one, it is usually hyphenated. For example, at least one style guide prefers the construction high school students, to high-school students.Although the expression is technically ambiguous (students of a high school students that are on drugs"/"students of grand physical stature"/"students elevated to great altitude"), it would normally be formulated differently if other than the first meaning were intended. Noun–noun compound modifiers may also be written without a hyphen when no confusion is likely: grade point average and department store manager. When the modifier is an adverb ending in -ly or when one of the parts is a proper or a proper adjective, there is no hyphen (e.g. a badly written novel or "a South American actor).