Hyphen or No Hyphen: That is the Question?

To hyphenate or not hyphenate compound words? I find myself grappling with that question from time to time as I’m writing. I’ll bet you do, too.Question mark

So what are the rules? What’s right? What’s wrong? That’s tough to decipher because, as you’ve surely observed online, most of us take a lot of liberties with the English language.

Rules about hyphenation

The Chicago Manual of Style provides a nifty table identifying how you should treat compounds.

In your spare time, you might want to dig into it. In the meantime, here are some quick tips related to some common scenarios:



  • If used as an adjective before a noun or as a noun, hyphenate.


My thirteen-year-old daughter

A thirteen-year-old

  • If used as an adjective after a noun, don’t hyphenate.
                She turns thirteen years old today.

Fractions – Hyphenate.




I’m two-thirds done with that project.

Percentages – Don’t hyphenate.


12 percent

An 80 percent increase
Self compounds – Hyphenate.




Adverbs ending with -ly + an adjective – Don’t hyphenate.


That was dangerously close

 A highly paid actor
Adverbs not ending with -ly + an adjective

  • If used before a noun, hyphenate.


The well-attended conference

  • If used after a noun, don’t hyphenate.Example:
    The conference was well attended

Noun + gerund (a noun that’s formed by taking a verb and adding “ing”)

  • If used as an adjective before another noun, hyphenate.

Policy-making procedures

  • Otherwise, don’t hyphenate.Example:
    She’s skilled at policy making

Phrases used as adjectives

  • If used before a noun, hyphenate.


A state-of-the-art solution

  • If not used before a noun, don’t hyphenate.


That solution is state of the art


Compound words that stand as one – Some compounds don’t need a hyphen or spaces between them regardless of how they’re used. Some examples…




Ultimately, using a hyphen when you technically shouldn’t or not using one when you should will go either unnoticed or ignored. Online, it’s sort of like the wild, wild west. Traditional writing rules seem meant to be broken. I think, in part, that’s what makes many folks’ writing so engaging, conversational, and easy to relate to.

So why even mention the rules? Whether we follow them to a T or not, our awareness of them makes us stronger, more educated writers.

By Dawn Mentzer
Another Insatiable Solopreneur™ post


Image courtesy of Master isolated images at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Owner, Freelance Writer at Dawn Mentzer Freelance Writing, LLC
Full-time independent content writer and copywriter based in Lancaster County, PA. I am not Amish nor do I drive a horse and buggy, but they pass by my house every day. I'm a fitness enthusiast, lover of live theater, and I believe everyone should adopt a pet from a rescue (unless you're allergic). I specialize in blog content, website copy, newsletter articles, industry editorials, press releases, and social media profile content. Please note that when reading my blog, you interpret and use the content at your own discretion and risk. Tips and guidance that have worked for me, may not produce the same outcome in your situation.

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