Hyphen Help with Words


As we discussed in Hyphen Help, there are specific rules for using hyphens with words. And the dictionary is your friend.

This week, I’m going to cover the rules of hyphens with one word. Should you use a hyphen or combine the prefix and root word? It depends.

Common terms used in this post:

Prefix = comes at the front of a word (two to four letters)

Suffix = comes at the end of a word (two to four letters)

Proper noun = A particular person (being) or thing, capitalized

Vowel = a, e, i, o, u, sometimes y

Root word = a word within a word that has a prefix or suffix

* Most times it is okay not to use a hyphen. If in doubt, look it up or go without. The following rules are when to use a hyphen with a word:

1. Use a hyphen when a prefix comes before a proper noun. As you can see combining them would look a little odd because the proper noun is capitalized.

Examples: un-American, non-Baptist

2. Use a hyphen if a prefix ends in a or i and the root word begins with the same letter.

Examples: semi-intoxicated, ultra ambitious

3. Hyphenate all words that begin with self. The only exceptions are selfish and selfless.

Examples: self-addressed, self-supporting

4. If the prefix is -ex, use a hyphen.

Examples: ex-husband, ex-Marine

5. If the prefix is re-, only use a hyphen when re- means again and not using a hyphen would create another word.

Examples: re-sort vs. resort; re-creation vs. recreation; re-covered vs. recovered

When to not use a hyphen and just combine the parts to create word:

1. When a prefix ends in one vowel and a root word begins with a different one, combine them.

Examples: antiaircraft, coauthor, preamble

2. If you get a double e or double o, combine the parts. However there are exceptions, so be sure to look it up if you are not sure.

Examples: cooperative, proactive

Exceptions: co-owner, de-emphasize

(The only reason I could see these being exceptions is because they would look odd without the hyphen. If you know the rule, or have another opinion, I’d love to hear it!)

Sources: The Blue Book of Punctuation and Grammar, merriamwebster.com, my brain

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