Grammar tips: Hyphens

Spider-Man hyphen meme

Even worse than commas and apostrophes, hyphens are a punctuation mark that most people forget to use. You do need to use them in some numbers, between some adjectives and nouns, and after prefixes. Here’s the low down on when!

  • When a number modifies or describes a noun or shows a range
    1. The five-story house or The house has five stories.
    2. An eight-hour work day or He works eight hours per day.
    3. The 10-year-old boy rode his bicycle or The bicycle rider is 10 years old.
    4. Exception: Do not hyphenate percentages or money: 4 percent raise or $30 office copay
    5. You can find the information that you need on pages 5-8.
  • When two adjectives that proceed a noun form a compound adjective that modifies that noun, especially when leaving the hyphen out can cause a change in meaning
    1. He is a long-term employee or He has worked here long term.
    2. She has a much-admired work ethic.
    3. She was worried about the violent-weather alert. (It’s alerting you to violent weather. But without the hyphen, you would be saying the alert is violent. It’s a violent weather alert. It might beat you up.)
    4. Exception: When a modifying word is an adverb (happily married man, individually packaged donuts)
    5. Exception: When some words, over time, become compound (e-mail to email or coffee-house to coffeehouse)
  • With prefixes that need hyphens
    1. I want to re-read the book.
    2. Her ex-landlord returned the deposit.
    3. He had a mullet in the mid-1980s.
    4. I’m enjoying this spring-like weather.
  • And in other rules, including fractions (one-third of the runners), proper nouns (Golden Globe nominee), numbers 21 to 99 (eighty-eight)
  • When in doubt, look it up. Sometimes, it’s just a judgment call or a stylistic requirement, like with Rolls-Royce or Spider-Man