When To Use A Hyphen In A Sentence

Updated May 11, 2023

When to Use a Hyphen in a Sentence


Understanding when to use a hyphen in a sentence can be a challenging aspect of grammar for many writers. Hyphens are small but powerful punctuation marks that can significantly impact the clarity and meaning of a sentence. In this article, we will explore the rules and guidelines for using hyphens correctly, helping you enhance your writing skills and avoid common mistakes.

Compound Words

One of the primary uses of a hyphen is in forming compound words. When two or more words are combined to create a single word with a unified meaning, a hyphen is often used to connect them. For example:

  • Mother-in-law: In this compound word, "mother" and "law" are joined by a hyphen to indicate the relationship between the mother and the law.
  • High-end: This compound word combines "high" and "end" to describe something of superior quality or sophistication.

Remember that not all compound words require a hyphen. In some cases, they are written as a single word or as separate words depending on the context and usage.

Prefixes and Suffixes

Hyphens are also used when adding prefixes or suffixes to words. When a prefix or suffix is added to a base word, a hyphen is often used to avoid confusion or to ensure clarity. Here are some examples:

  • Re-examine: The prefix "re-" is connected to "examine" with a hyphen to indicate doing something again.
  • Child-friendly: The suffix "-friendly" is joined with "child" to describe something suitable or safe for children.

Again, it is important to note that not all words with prefixes or suffixes require a hyphen. The usage may vary depending on the specific word and the style guide you are following.

Adjective-Noun Combinations

Hyphens are frequently used when an adjective modifies a noun, particularly when they appear before the noun. This helps avoid ambiguity and ensures the reader understands the intended meaning. Consider the following examples:

  • Well-known author: The hyphen connects "well" and "known" to clarify that the author is famous or widely recognized.
  • Five-year plan: Here, the hyphen ensures that "five" and "year" are understood as a single concept, referring to a plan spanning five years.

Numbers and Fractions

Hyphens are essential when writing out numbers or fractions as words. They help to indicate the connection between the individual digits and ensure clarity. For instance:

  • Twenty-two: The hyphen connects the tens digit ("twenty") and the units digit ("two") to form the number 22.
  • One-third: In this case, the hyphen clarifies that "one" and "third" together represent a fraction.


Understanding when to use a hyphen in a sentence is crucial for clear and effective writing. Whether it's forming compound words, adding prefixes or suffixes, clarifying adjective-noun combinations, or writing out numbers and fractions, hyphens play a vital role in maintaining clarity and avoiding confusion. By following the rules and guidelines discussed in this article, you can confidently wield hyphens and enhance the quality of your writing.

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