Hyphen Help


Good grammar and punctuation can make or break a post. It can make or break a chance for a job interview, promotion, or even getting a date. Good grammar and punctuation show attention to detail and how much you care about your work.

I spend a lot of time explaining grammar rules. It’s especially important for professional writers and editors to know the rules, so they can improve their projects and offer good feedback. For this first grammar tip post, I chose hyphens because I’m asked more questions about them that any other type of punctuation.

Hyphen (-)

Hyphens, like commas, are tricky and have several rules. A hyphen is used to combine words to form one idea. Here is a breakdown of the rules for compound words. A later post about single words, like co-owner, will follow soon.

* An important hyphen tip is to first look up the word in the dictionary. If you can’t find it, then read these rules to see what fits.

Common terms used in this post:

Compound = two words combined to create one idea

Noun = A person, place, thing, or idea

Verb = A word that shows movement or action

Adjective = Words that describe a noun or pronoun

Adverb = Words that modify everything else (verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.)


1. Is the compound noun one word or two? If you can’t find it in the dictionary, make it two words.

Examples: eye shadow, ballpark, hot dog

2. Verbs are two words, nouns and adjectives are one.

Examples: clean up (verb) vs. cleanup (noun)

3. Compound verbs either have a hyphen or are one word.

Examples: downsize, upshift, to air-condition the house

4. Hyphenate two or more adjectives when they come before a noun. However, if you can use the word ‘and’ in between the adjectives, use a comma.

Examples with hyphens: family-friendly, reddish-brown, funny-looking

Examples with commas: tall, smelly (tall and smelly); cute, sexy (cute and sexy)

5. When compound adverbs that do not end in -ly come before a noun, use a hyphen.

Examples: well-known, much-needed, top-notch

6. Hyphenate numbers twenty-one (21) through ninety-nine (99)

7. Hyphenate all spelled out fractions.

Examples: one-third, one-half, seven-eighths


If you have special tips or want to share more examples, do so in the comments section below!

Source: The Blue Book of Punctuation and Grammar

4 thoughts on “Hyphen Help

  1. Pingback: Hyphen Help with Words « Revenant Publications

  2. Amy McNutt

    If I use “family friendly” as a bullet point as a benefit of something, would it have a hyphen? I assumed it would not.

    Our store is:
    -easy to find
    -family friendly


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