Punctuation: The Hyphen

Definition: a punctuation mark (-), used to join words to indicate that they have a combined meaning or that they are linked in the grammar of a sentence (as in pick-me-up, rock-forming), to indicate the division of a word at the end of a line, or to indicate a missing or implied element (as in short- and long-term).

Note: Do not rely on grammar or spelling checkers to identify missing or misused punctuation. Although a checker may flag possibly missing or incorrect marks, it cannot do much else. While I still recommend using these AI checkers while you’re writing, I insist that you also trust a qualified human being to copyedit any work that you are working toward publishing.

The main use of a hyphen is syllabication (for proofreaders), but another use is for compound words. It may also be used for number ranges in place of en-dashes.

Note: The hyphen may be used differently (whether you hyphenate compound adjectives or not) depending on the dictionary used while writing. For further information, check the specific rules for your region.

Related article: “Punctuation: Dashes” [coming soon]

In Compound Words

Use a hyphen to combine linked adjectives or compound nouns.

  • e.g. The wholistic cruelty-free grass-fed dairy farm was short-handed after a sudden record-breaking surge in demand.

In Ranges

While number and date ranges are normally written with an en-dash, a hyphen may be used instead.

  • e.g. Read pages 5-14 for more information.
  • e.g. Queen Elizabeth II (April 1926 – September 2022) was the longest reigning queen in England’s history.

With Other Punctuation

Because a hyphen is used internally, no other punctuation is used with it.

For further information, see my other Punctuation articles:


Aaron, J.E. & Morrison, A. The Little, Brown Compact Handbook, 5th Canadian ed. Pearson, 2013, chap 5

Judd, K. Copyediting, A Practical Guide, 3rd ed. California, CA: Crisp Learning, 2001, chap 4

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