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:

 

Ages

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

Examples:

My thirteen-year-old daughter

A thirteen-year-old

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

Fractions – Hyphenate.

Examples:

one-quarter

one-half

I’m two-thirds done with that project.

Percentages – Don’t hyphenate.

Examples:

12 percent

An 80 percent increase
Self compounds – Hyphenate.

Examples:

Self-employment

 Self-employed

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

Examples:

That was dangerously close

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

  • If used before a noun, hyphenate.

Example:

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.

Example:
Policy-making procedures

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

Phrases used as adjectives

  • If used before a noun, hyphenate.

Example:

A state-of-the-art solution

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

Example:

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…

Examples:

online
website
takeaway
heartbreaking
biweekly
mindset
overachieve

 

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

 

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