A hyphen "icon" embedded in your text — - — indicates either that a hyphen is called for at that point, or (if you have a hyphen there already) that the hyphen is not appropriate. We hope that this page will explain why.
Although smart word-processors seem to have taken over the job of hyphenating broken words at the right-hand end of our lines and spellcheckers can review our use of hyphens in other places, these technological marvels are by no means infallible. Microsoft Word, for example, flags as misspelled almost any word with an unhyphenated prefix: antidiscrimination and cogeneration, for example, are marked as misspelled words and re-sign, co-bra, ever-green, and be-loved are marked as correctly hyphenated words by that software.* Generally, it is a good idea not to use justified text in academic papers; that will cut down on a lot of decisions about hyphenating. The APA Publication Manual, in fact, insists that you not break words at line-endings in any case, but that can lead to lines that are too brief and aesthetically unbalanced.
The rules for hyphenating at line endings are so complicated that no one can be expected to keep track of them. If you're ever in a situation where you have to hyphenate at line-breaks, go to a dictionary—unless you can explain why you would break experience between the e and the r, that is, and then you can do whatever you want. Remember that if you adjust one line-break for aesthetic reasons, that may well affect subsequent line-breaks in the text.
Probably the best reference text for these decisions (next to looking up everything in a dictionary, that is) is The Chicago Manual of Style. An excellent online resource on hyphen use is the Editing Workshop by Sonia Jaffe Robbins at New York University. Tom Little voices a dissenting opinion in "The Great Hyphenation Hoax," which seeks to free writers of the innumerable rules and imponderable tables of the Chicago Manual of Style.
Hyphens have other uses
- creating compound words, particularly modifiers before nouns (the well-known actor, my six-year-old daughter, the out-of-date curriculum
- writing numbers twenty-one to ninety-nine and fractions (five-eighths, one-fourth)
- creating compounds on-the-fly for fly-by-night organizations
- adding certain prefixes to words: When a prefix comes before a capitalized word or the prefix is capitalized, use a hyphen (non-English, A-frame, I-formation). The prefixes self-, all-, and ex- nearly always require a hyphen (ex-husband, all-inclusive, self-control), and when the prefix ends with the same letter that begins the word, you will often use a hyphen (anti-intellectual, de-emphasize), but not always (unnatural, coordinate, cooperate). By all means, use a good dictionary when in doubt! For further information about compound nouns and compound modifiers, see the separate section on Compound Words.
There is no space between a hyphen and the character on either side of it.
With a series of nearly identical compounds, we sometimes delay the final term of the final term until the last instance, allowing the hyphen to act as a kind of place holder, as in
- The third- and fourth-grade teachers met with the parents.
- Both full- and part-time employees will get raises this year.
- We don't see many 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children around here.
Be careful not to overuse this feature of the hyphen; readers have to wait until that final instance to know what you're talking about, and that can be annoying.
period || question mark || exclamation mark || colon || semicolon || dash
parentheses || brackets || ellipsis || apostrophe || quotation marks || comma || slash
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Quizzes on Punctuation Marks