The hyphen is a punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. The use of hyphens is called hyphenation. A hyphen looks like this: -. Hyphens have many uses in writing.
Son-in-law is an example of a hyphenated word. The hyphen is sometimes confused with dashes which are longer and have different uses, or with the minus sign. The hyphen is the shortest of these signs.
- Some words can have a hyphen added to change the meaning. For example, re-form means "start again" but reform means "change". A re-formed group is different from a reformed group.
- A hyphen is used to spell out some numbers (thirty-two, forty-nine, eighty-six).
- When a name for a material such as "stainless steel" is used with a word for a thing made of that material, a hyphen may be used, as in "stainless-steel knife".
- Some words have letters at the beginning, or prefixes, these can sometimes use hyphens: un-American, anti-pollution, non-proliferation
- When spelling out a word: H-Y-P-H-E-N
- In some cases, when putting two words together would be hard to understand. For example, if something is like a shell, writing it as "shelllike" is hard to read with so many uses of the letter 'l'. It is better to use "shell-like."
- When writing words that someone has spoken when that person has difficulty speaking, as in: "I reached for the w-w-w-watering can." This is called a stammer.
- When adding words that already have a hyphen. For example: two to year-old as in: "He was a two- or three-year-old dog."
- If a word for a person (a name or proper noun) is used with another name, a hyphen is used, such as "the Merriam-Webster dictionary" or "the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact."
- Some people take a name from the family names of both parents, or from the last name of their father and husband. For example: "John Rees-Williams". This is not always the case, for example: "Hillary Rodham Clinton".
- A hyphen is also used when a word is too long to fit in one row of writing. This is often done in books, magazines and newspapers to save space and paper. A long word is broken into two parts, of nearly the same length, with a hyphen at the end of the first part. The normal way is to make the first part of the word as much of a complete word as possible. For example:
|Not so good
|What was done was not good, not help-
ful, nor was it very useful.
|What was done was not good, not hel-
pful, nor was it very useful.