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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.)


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:


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
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