Hyphen is a small but essential punctuation mark with various uses in English writing.
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A hyphen is used to connect two or more words that together function as a single concept.
Example: “Well-known,” “mother-in-law.”
Joining Prefixes or Suffixes:
Sometimes it’s used with certain prefixes or suffixes to prevent confusion or misreading.
Example: “re-enter,” “pro-government.”
With Numbers and Fractions:
In written numbers and fractions, a hyphen is often used.
Example: “twenty-one,” “two-thirds.”
To Show a Range:
A hyphen can indicate a range between numbers.
Example: “pages 10-15.”
To Avoid Doubled or Tripled Letters:
Sometimes, a hyphen is used to prevent awkward combinations of letters.
Example: “shell-like” (instead of “shelllike”).
With Suspended Hyphenation:
When a base word is shared between multiple words in a list, a hyphen can be used.
Example: “10- or 20-minute breaks.”
Breaking Words at Line Ends:
If a word must be broken at the end of a line, a hyphen indicates the word continues on the next line.
Hyphens can be used to clarify meaning and avoid ambiguity.
Example: “small-business owner” (an owner of a small business) vs. “small business owner” (a small owner of a business).
Not a Dash:
It’s essential to recognize that hyphens are not the same as dashes (such as the en dash
– or em dash
—), which have different functions.
The hyphen helps to clarify meaning, create compound terms, and smoothly join words and numbers. It makes the relationship between words clear and helps the reader understand the writer’s intent.
The hyphen is a simple horizontal line used to connect words, numbers, and prefixes. Though small, it plays a vital role in ensuring that writing is clear and easy to understand. By recognizing when and how to use the hyphen, writers can make their text more precise and reader-friendly.