What words should be hyphenated?
There are five types of words that should be hyphenated:
1. Compound adjective + noun
When you use a compound adjective before the noun, you should hyphenate:
- there's off-street parking here
- chocolate-covered raisins
- this is a family-owned business
- small-town charm
When compound modifiers come after the noun, you don’t need to hyphenate:
- parking here is off street
- raisins are chocolate covered
- this business is family owned
- charm of a small town
2. Age + noun
If age is being used as an adjective before the noun, you should hyphenate:
- The five-year-old boy is ready for school.
- The toddler is a two-year-old terror.
But if the age comes after a noun or verb, you don’t hyphenate it:
- The boy is five years old.
- The terrifying toddler is two years old.
3. Numbers 21 through 99
You need a hyphen when writing out numbers twenty-one and ninety-nine, and everything between.
4. Some prefixes
Normally, prefixes don't need hyphens, but they do when the word is a proper noun or particularly long to begin with:
- Place your order pre-Christmas to enjoy our discount.
- There's a huge problem with under-representation of minority groups.
We always need hyphens with the prefixes anti- and self-:
- I'm a self-motivated person.
- Move in an anti-clockwise direction.
5. For clarity
Hyphens can be used to clarify confusing or awkward combinations, like shell-like or de-ice.