When Is A Hyphen Used In A Sentence

Updated Mar 23, 2023

When is a Hyphen Used in a Sentence?

Have you ever wondered about the proper usage of hyphens in sentences? Hyphens can be quite confusing, but fear not! In this article, we will explore the different scenarios when a hyphen is used in a sentence, providing you with a clearer understanding of this punctuation mark.

1. Compound Words

One of the primary uses of hyphens is to create compound words. These are words formed by combining two or more words together. Here are a few examples:

  • Mother-in-law: This term refers to the mother of your spouse. The hyphen is used to join the words "mother" and "in-law" to create a single word.

  • Well-being: This compound word is used to describe a state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. The hyphen connects "well" and "being" to convey the intended meaning.

  • Self-esteem: It refers to one's confidence and belief in their own worth and abilities. The hyphen is used to combine the words "self" and "esteem."

2. Prefixes and Suffixes

Hyphens are also used when combining prefixes or suffixes with words. Here are a few examples:

  • Re-examine: In this word, the prefix "re-" meaning "again" is connected to the word "examine" with a hyphen. It denotes the act of examining something once more.

  • Child-friendly: The suffix "-friendly" is added to the word "child" to describe something suitable or safe for children. The hyphen connects the prefix and the word.

3. Numbers and Dates

Hyphens are commonly used in numbers and dates to represent specific ranges or connections. Consider the following examples:

  • Twenty-five: This represents the number 25. The hyphen connects the words "twenty" and "five" to form a compound adjective.

  • 1st-5th: When indicating a range of dates or numbered items, a hyphen is used. In this example, it represents the first through the fifth item or date.

4. Clarify Meaning and Avoid Ambiguity

Hyphens can be used to avoid confusion or clarify meaning in certain sentence structures. Here's an example:

  • The man-eating shark: The hyphen in this phrase clarifies that the shark is the subject of the sentence, and it eats men, rather than being a man that is eating.

  • Small-business owner: In this case, the hyphen connects "small" and "business" to indicate that the owner is involved in a small-scale enterprise, rather than being a small owner of a business.

Remember that hyphens should only be used when necessary to avoid ambiguity or enhance clarity. Overusing or omitting them can lead to confusion.


Hyphens play a crucial role in sentence structure by connecting words and parts of words to form compound words, clarify meaning, and represent ranges. By understanding the different scenarios in which hyphens are used, you can enhance your writing and ensure your sentences convey the intended message accurately. So, next time you encounter a situation where the use of a hyphen is uncertain, refer back to this article to write with confidence!

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