First, hyphens must not be used interchangeably with dashes. Hyphens are shorter and are used for specific purposes.
Hyphens basically put words together to make a new compound. They are used when one word does not work on its own, and it pairs it with the next word for a single “word.”
Hyphens Compound Adjectives
Hyphenate two or more words to modify the following noun. This is called a compound adjective.
- A two-story building. Well-known author.
When a compound adjective follows a noun, a hyphen is not necessary.
- The building has two stories. The author is well known.
However, some established compound adjectives are always hyphenated. You can check a dictionary or style guide for these.
- The building design is state-of-the-art.
Sometimes hyphens are used to create new verb phrases or for fun.
Matthew video-gamed through his twenties.
- Matthew test-drives every car he likes.
Do not hyphenate adverbs. Adverbs modify verbs, not nouns.
- He is a classically trained pianist.
Be careful when nouns end in ly. They are only hyphenated when they modify a noun.
- A family-run hardware store.
It’s not a family store, not a run store, but a family-run store. This is an example where the adjectives by themselves don’t make sense unless you hyphenate them as compound adjectives (family and run.)
Hyphenate spans or of time, distance, or number quantities. The longer hyphen, the en dash, is best for this. In Word, use Insert, Symbols, Special Characters. You will see the en and em dash characters.
(span) Young voters were active especially in 2015-2018.
(number quantities) There were about 150-200 people in attendance.
(time) The meeting is held between 1:15-3:30 p.m.