Hyphen: Uses you should know

The hyphen is a punctuation mark that is sometimes underrated. For some writers, it is only used to form some compound words, so they leave it at that.

The hyphen may sometimes be confused with an en dash or em dash, but they are different.

Also read Em dash: the regular dash

Let’s look at the uses of the hyphen:

To form compound words

  1. soft-speaking
  2. wife-to-be
  3. state-of-the-art

The use of the hyphen in compound adjectives might be a bit tricky. For example, compound adjectives beginning with ‘well’ are generally written without a hyphen after a verb when used alone, but hyphenated before a noun they describe.


  1. His protruding belly showed he was well fed in prison.
  2. His protruding belly showed he was a well-fed prisoner.


To indicate breaking of same word between a line and the next.

  •  The manager was happy with the professional foot-
  • baller who just joined the club.

Note: Split a word in a way that is not misleading, e.g. atten-tion not atte-ntion, lea-gue not leagu-e.


To join words and prefixes.

  1. pro-African
  2. pre-historic


To sometimes (in British English) separate a prefix ending with a vowel from another word with the same vowel.

  1. pre-emptive
  2. co-operation


To write compound numbers (21 to 99).

  1. eighty-two
  2. forty-six


To write age or number.

  1. Her two-year-old son.
  2. A one-million-man match.
  3. A group of ten-year-olds.


To represent a common second element in a list, except in the last item.

  1. We could not ascertain the percentage, so we arranged them in two-, three-, and fourfold.

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