Grammar GuideHyphenWhat words should be hyphenated?

What words should be hyphenated?

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.

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