1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email
hyphen

Note the startling result of the absence of hyphens in this headline. (Adapted from The Revenge of Anguished English by Richard Lederer. St. Martin's Press, 2005.)

Definition:

A short horizontal mark of punctuation ( - ) used between the parts of a compound word or name or between the syllables of a word when divided at the end of a line.

Don't confuse the hyphen (-) with the dash (—).

See also:


Etymology:

From the Greek, a sign indicating a compound or two words that are read as one

Examples and Observations:

  • "The hyphen continues to serve us, often by removing ambiguity from sentences. . . . Here are some expressions whose ambiguity can be removed by a hyphen: old furniture dealer, hot cow’s milk, the minister met small businessmen, 30 odd members, a little known city, recovered the sofa, man eating tiger. Lynne Truss points to the different meanings of 'extra marital sex' with and without a hyphen."
    (V.R. Narayanaswami, "Euro Guide to the Use of Hyphens." Livemint.com, August 14, 2012)


  • "I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind."
    (Jeffrey Jones as Principal Ed Rooney, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986)


  • "The mourners on the front benches sat in a blue-serge, black-crepe-dress gloom."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1970)


  • "Yesterday, rain-fog; today, frost-mist. But how fascinating each."
    (Fiona Macleod, "At the Turn of the Year," 1903)


  • "I'm part of the blame-America-last crowd."
    (Stephen Colbert)


  • "New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions."
    (William James)


  • "Lord Emsworth belonged to the people-like-to-be-left-alone-to-amuse-themselves-when-they-come-to-a-place school of hosts."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh, 1915)


  • "The hyphen is the most un-American thing in the world."
    (President Woodrow Wilson)


  • Guidelines for Using Hyphens
    "The use of hyphens in compounds and complex words involves a number of different rules, and practice is changing, with fewer hyphens present in contemporary usage. For example, compound words may be written as separate words (post box), hyphenated (post-box) or written as one word (postbox).

    "Particular prefixes regularly involve a hyphen (e.g. ex-minister, post-war, self-interest, quasi-public).

    "Hyphens are normally used in compounds in which the pre-head item is a single capital letter (e.g. U-turn, X-ray), and hyphens are sometimes needed to disambiguate certain words (e.g. re-form = form again, reform = change radically).

    "In numerically modified adjectives, all modifying elements are hyphenated. Note that these forms are only used attributively (e.g. an eighteen-year-old girl, a twenty-ton truck, a twenty-four hour flight)."
    (R. Carter and M. McCarthy, Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006)


  • Churchill on Hyphens
    "One must regard the hyphen as a blemish to be avoided wherever possible. Where a composite word is used it is inevitable, but . . . [my] feeling is that you may run them together or leave them apart, except when nature revolts."
    (Winston Churchill, to his long-time secretary Eddie Marsh, 1934)


  • The Lighter Side of Hyphens
    "I'll have the misspelled Caesar salad and the improperly hyphenated veal osso-buco."
    (restaurant patron to a waiter, cartoon in The New Yorker, June 3, 2002)


    Reggie: The program sets them up with a fair income, and a nice little house. White, with a walk-in closet. . . . Well, write it down. "Walk-in closet."
    Roy: Is "walk in" hyphenated?
    (Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones in The Client, 1994)


    Bartender: Who would you be?
    Wilson: High-Spade Frankie Wilson--with a hyphen. That's what I sit on when I get tired.
    (Winchester '73, 1950)
Pronunciation: HI-fen
  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Grammar & Composition
  4. Grammar & Rhetoric Glossary
  5. Fable - Hysteron Proteron
  6. hyphen - definition and examples of hyphens in English

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.