How to use a hyphen in a sentence

Updated April 17, 2017

Hyphens are an important part of writing sentences, and they are often overlooked. Hyphens should be used to join things and should not be confused with dashes, which serve a different purpose. Learn to use hyphens correctly in sentences.

Link compound modifiers with hyphens. A compound modifier is when two or more words together modify a single noun; link all of the words involved with a hyphen, whether they appear before or after the noun. Example: "A first-rate student" or "the 10-year-old boy." This does not apply to adverbs "very" and those ending in "-ly."

Link compound proper nouns and adjectives with a hyphen. For example, "Italian-American."

Use a hyphen with numbers and fractions. For example, "four-fifths," "thirty-eight" and so on.

Separate double vowels with a hyphen that can sometimes occur with prefixes. The double vowel can sometimes be awkward. For example, "re-elect."

Use hyphens with other words with prefixes, such as "self-administer" and others.

Hyphenate compound words. There are certain words that are always hyphenated, like "water-repellent." Look up the word in a dictionary if you aren't sure. If the word is not hyphenated in the dictionary, it should be written as two words.

Use a hyphen in any instance where the meaning of a word might be unclear if no hyphen were used. For example, "She likes to read as recreation" versus "The director did an excellent job in the re-creation of the 1940s."

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About the Author

Erica Sweeney is a freelance writer and editor based in Little Rock, Ark. She has a master's in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her work has been published at, Arkansas Times, Aging Arkansas and Arkansas Business.