• Grammar
  • 4 min read


Used to combine words or parts of words, hyphens are unique dashes that cannot be interchanged with other dashes. When a modifier is placed before the modified word, use a hyphen in the compound modifier. To ensure if a compound word contains a hyphen, it’s best to refer to the dictionary of your choice.

Hyphens and Compound Modifiers

Choosing the right words to join with a hyphen is not easy. Compound modifiers consist of two words that function together like one adjective. Words work together as one when joined with a hyphen.

Example: The system is up to date with the latest technology. (Incorrect)

                The system is up-to-date with the latest technology. (Correct)

In most cases, hyphens are necessary only if the two words working as an adjective are placed before the noun they are describing. However, the hyphen can be skipped if the noun comes before the compound modifier.

Example: The system is up-to-date with the latest technology.

                 The technology in the system is up to date.

If the compound modifier consists of an adverb and an adjective, there is no need to add a hyphen.

Example: The chemistry exam was brutally-hard. (Incorrect)

                The chemistry exam was brutally hard. (Correct)

Hyphens and Participles

It doesn’t matter if present or past participles are included in compound modifiers; the rules are the same as any other compound modifier. Hyphens can be used to clarify words that feature the combination of a noun or an adjective with a present participle.

Example: The bell like shape of the flower is very enchanting. (Incorrect)

                The bell-like shape of the flower is very enchanting, (Correct)

The hyphen can be skipped if the modifier is placed after the noun it is describing. Also, if there is a combination of an adverb and a participle, do not use a hyphen.

Example: The dress looks like a beautifully-stitched cotton candy. (Incorrect)

                The dress looks like a beautifully stitched cotton candy. (Correct)  

Hyphens and Compound Expressions

Following the same rules like other compound modifiers, compound modifiers consisting of a past participle should contain a hyphen if the compound is placed before the verb it modifies. If the compound is placed after a noun it explains, do not use a hyphen.

Example: The critically-acclaimed theatrical play has a huge cast.

                The theatrical play with a huge cast is critically acclaimed.

Hyphens and Compound Words

It is vital to refer a dictionary to check if a compound word requires a hyphen or not. This is because, over the course of time, many hyphenated compound words turned into closed compounds, like e-mail to email.

Example: Editor-in-chief


Closed and Open Compound Words

Open compounds consist of two nouns that are placed together to symbolize and communicate a particular thought. While not being joined by a hyphen, open compounds have space between them.

Over time, hyphenated words often turn into closed compounds or single words that don’t have a hyphen. It is vital to refer to your preferred dictionary to check if a compound word is a closed one or an open one.

Example: Whiteboard (Closed Compound)

                 Water jug (Open Compound)

Hyphens and Numbers

When spelled out or written down, numbers that contain two words should have a hyphen between them.

Example: I have lost my pen twenty-nine times.

Hyphens, Compound Adjectives, and Numbers

If numbers are placed before nouns in the first part of a compound adjective, connect the number and the noun with a hyphen. This rule is the same for numbers written in both digits or words. However, if the number is placed as the second word in any compound adjective, there is no need to add a hyphen.

Example: I have to give a 10-minute speech about courage.

                She dropped a ball from a sixth-floor balcony.

                You need to look at file number 4.

Hyphens and Compound Adjectives with Fractions

If there is a fraction in a compound adjective, a hyphen should be placed to clarify that the fraction is modifying a particular noun.

Example: This is a half-baked idea for a serious career choice.

                He bought the mansion for some quarter-million dollars.  

Hyphens and Prefixes: Ex-, Self-, All-

When writing a prefix, it is essential to add a hyphen. For the prefix ex- which denotes former, place a hyphen after the prefix. For the prefix self- which is reflexive, place a hyphen after the prefix. Remember the difference between the prefix self- and the noun self.

Example: There are lots of self-doubts when writing exams.

                An ex-employee sued the corporation for extra compensation.

Hyphens and High or Low

When placing high or low in a compound adjective, ensure the use of a hyphen when the noun it’s modifying follows the compound.

Example: Low-hanging fruits are the easiest ones to pick.

                 High-quality food is arguably the best thing in the world.


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