Hyphen - Explore Its Meaning, Definition, Uses and Examples

Have you heard of compound words? Have you analysed how they combine to form compound words? If you have, you should have definitely come across compound words with a hyphen in between. Well, in this article, you will learn all that you need to know about a hyphen, its definition, meaning and how to use it along with examples. Go through the topics given below to develop a clear idea of the different ways in which a hyphen can be used in the English language.

Table of Contents

What is a Hyphen? – Meaning and Definition

A hyphen is a punctuation mark that is mainly used to combine two words to form compound words. According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, a hyphen is defined as “the mark (- ) used to join two words together to make a new one, as in back-up, to show that a word has been divided between the end of one line and the beginning of the next, or to show that something is missing (as in short- and long-term)”. The Collins Dictionary defines a hyphen as “the punctuation sign used to join words together to make a compound, as in ‘ left-handed’.” A hyphen is “a punctuation mark – used especially to divide or to compound words, word elements, or numbers”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Making Use of Hyphens in Your Writing – Rules and Points to Remember

Hyphens are primarily used to link two words together to form compound words. However, they can also be used for other purposes. Take a look at the following points to find out what the other functions are.

A hyphen can be used:

  • To refer to physical quantities if the unit is spelled out and not when it is written in the abbreviated form;
  • With numbers, to represent time frames, estimates of distance and other attributes;
  • When referring to the age of people or things;
  • When writing compound numbers and fractions only if they are spelled out;
  • When adding prefixes and suffixes, though not always.

Examples of Sentences Using a Hyphen

Here are a few examples of sentences using words or terms with hyphens for your reference.

Using Hyphens to Refer to Physical Quantities

  • I had to carry a sixty-pound bag full of clothes up to the third floor yesterday.
  • Madhu found an eight-centimetre long chameleon sitting on one of the rose bushes in her garden.
  • Vishnu found it hard to lift even a five-kilogram sack of rice since he had sprained his wrist last week.

Using Hyphens to Form Compound Words

  • Rory was a happy-go-lucky kid who enjoyed every moment of her life to the fullest.
  • Meera was a bright-eyed girl.
  • I did not notice that the green-coloured floral dress that I bought the other day was damaged.

Using Hyphens to Represent Time Frames, Estimates of Distances and Other Attributes

  • They had informed us that the meeting would be held from 3:30-5:30 p.m.
  • We were expecting only 500-750 people to attend the seminar, but around 1300 people attended.
  • Hannah told us that we would have to travel for 3-4 kms, after the roundabout, to reach the beach.

Using Hyphens to Refer to the Age of People/Things

  • We were surprised to see the ninety-year-old couple do a salsa dance.
  • Our four-year-old daughter won the Kids’ Beauty Pageant.
  • The ten-year anniversary of our shop falls on the 12th of June.

Using Hyphens to Refer to Fractions and Compound Numbers

  • Joey ate three-fourth of the cake all by himself.
  • Almost two-third of the town is occupied by Malayalis.
  • Twenty-five students were selected to go to the International Science Fair.

There is one rule that you should remember when using hyphens. If you are spelling out fractions along with numbers, hyphenate only the fraction and not the number.

For example:

  • Six and one-third
  • Eight and three-fourth

However, if the number and fraction acts as a compound adjective, you can hyphenate the whole construction.

For example:

  • The six-and-one-third-foot-long pole, that stood right in the middle of the road, was a hindrance for everyone who took that route.
  • The eight-and-one-quarter-inch loaf was stale.

Using Hyphens with Prefixes and Suffixes

As long as prefixes are concerned, you have to hyphenate,

  • Every word that begins with prefixes such as ‘ex’, ‘self’ and ‘all’
  • Every word that has a prefix that ends with a vowel and a root word that begins with a vowel
  • Every proper noun that has a prefix
  • When using prefixes to describe family relations

Examples:

  • The ex-president is visiting Paris today.
  • Our city has been semi-arid for many years now.
  • In mid-January, we will be leaving for Canada.
  • My great-grandfather was a veteran soldier.

Check Your Understanding of the Usage of Hyphens in Sentences

Go through the following sentences. Identify the words that have to be hyphenated and rewrite the sentences accurately.

1. My sister has a semiacoustic guitar.

2. The hundred year old clock caught my eyes.

3. There would be around 800 1000 people going on this trip.

4. Can we have fifty five cups of coffee please?

5. Neena would be practising for 3 4 hours by the time we get there.

6. Three fourth of the drink was over within an hour.

7. The self obsessed girl could not manage to see another girl take up the centre stage.

8. My ninety year old grandmother is so active and energetic even at this age.

9. Her great grandmother will be visiting her next week.

10. My brother had a six inch subway for lunch.

Check out the sentences given below to find out if you have hyphenated the words correctly.

1. My sister has a semi-acoustic guitar.

2. The hundred-year-old clock caught my eyes.

3. There would be around 800-1000 people going on this trip.

4. Can we have fifty-five cups of coffee please?

5. Neena would be practising for 3-4 hours by the time we get there.

6. Three-fourth of the drink was over within an hour.

7. The self-obsessed girl could not manage to see another girl take up the centre stage.

8. My ninety-year-old grandmother is so active and energetic even at this age.

9. Her great-grandmother will be visiting her next week.

10. My brother had a six-inch subway for lunch.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Usage of Hyphens

What is a hyphen?

A hyphen is a punctuation mark that is mainly used to combine two words to form compound words.

What is the definition of a hyphen?

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, a hyphen is defined as “the mark (- ) used to join two words together to make a new one, as in back-up, to show that a word has been divided between the end of one line and the beginning of the next, or to show that something is missing (as in short- and long-term)”. The Collins Dictionary defines a hyphen as “the punctuation sign used to join words together to make a compound, as in ‘ left-handed’.” A hyphen is “a punctuation mark – used especially to divide or to compound words, word elements, or numbers”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

What are the uses of a hyphen?

A hyphen can be used,

  • To refer to physical quantities if the unit is spelled out and not when it is written in the abbreviated form;
  • With numbers, to represent time frames, estimates of distance and other attributes;
  • When referring to the age of people or things;
  • When writing compound numbers and fractions only if they are spelled out;
  • When adding prefixes and suffixes, though not always.

Give some examples of hyphens.

Here are a few examples of sentences to understand the usage of hyphens.

  • The ten-year anniversary of our shop falls on the 12th of June.
  • In mid-January, we will be leaving for Canada.
  • The six-and-one-third-foot-long pole, that stood right in the middle of the road, was a hindrance for everyone who took that route.
  • I did not notice that the green-coloured floral dress that I bought the other day was damaged.
  • Joey ate three-fourth of the cake all by himself.

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