Using hyphens

The main use of a hyphen is to join two or more words together.

Sometimes a word needs a hyphen for it to be spelt correctly.

For example:

  • one-off
  • part-time
  • face-to-face

In some situations there are no hard and fast rules and the use of hyphens is a matter of personal preference. However, there are some guidelines on when you should use them.

In compound adjectives (single adjectives formed from two or more words) that appear before a noun

For example:

  • An up-to-date guide is a guide that is up to date.
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance is a benefit that is based on your income.
  • An energy-efficient fridge is one that is energy efficient.

These hyphens are often necessary to avoid confusion.

For example:

  • A blue-collared shirt is a shirt with a blue collar, while a blue collared shirt could be a blue shirt that has a collar.
  • A French-dictionary salesman is a man who sells French dictionaries, while a French dictionary salesman could be a Frenchman who sells dictionaries.
  • A red-wine bottle is a bottle for red wine, while a red wine bottle could be a wine bottle that is red.

To distinguish one word from a similar one

For example:

  • re-sort, not resort
  • co-op, not coop
  • re-form, not reform

With prefixes

Some words formed with a prefix are always hyphenated.

For example:

  • self-employed
  • pro-family
  • anti-aircraft

With some prefixes, a hyphen is not necessary but is preferable to help with pronunciation, avoid a double vowel, or stop a word looking odd.

For example:

  • co-ordinate
  • re-enter
  • de-ice

When numbers between 21 and 99 are written out in full

For example:

  • twenty-one
  • ninety-nine
  • one hundred and thirty-four (Note that only 'thirty-four' is hyphenated.)

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