OWL logo
General WritingResearch and CitationTeaching and TutoringSubject-Specific WritingJob Search WritingESL
OWL at Purdue Logo

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue (https://owl.english.purdue.edu/). When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice at bottom.

It's Here: A new look for the Purdue OWL!

The new version of the Purdue OWL is available at https://owl.purdue.edu/. Worry not! Our navigation menu and content will remain largely the same. In 8 days, we will be discontinuing owl.english.purdue.edu and you will be automatically redirected to the new site.

Hyphen Use


A comprehensive rundown on the proper use of the hyphen.

Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2013-06-07 09:00:40

Two words brought together as a compound may be written separately, written as one word, or connected by hyphens. For example, three modern dictionaries all have the same listings for the following compounds:

hair stylist

Another modern dictionary, however, lists hairstylist, not hair stylist. Compounding is obviously in a state of flux, and authorities do not always agree in all cases, but the uses of the hyphen offered here are generally agreed upon.

  1. Use a hyphen to join two or more words serving as a single adjective before a noun:
    a one-way street
    chocolate-covered peanuts
    well-known author
    However, when compound modifiers come after a noun, they are not hyphenated:
    The peanuts were chocolate covered.
    The author was well known.
  2. Use a hyphen with compound numbers:
    Our much-loved teacher was sixty-three years old.
  3. Use a hyphen to avoid confusion or an awkward combination of letters:
    re-sign a petition (vs. resign from a job)
    semi-independent (but semiconscious)
    shell-like (but childlike)
  4. Use a hyphen with the prefixes ex- (meaning former), self-, all-; with the suffix -elect; between a prefix and a capitalized word; and with figures or letters:
    pre-Civil War
  5. Use a hyphen to divide words at the end of a line if necessary, and make the break only between syllables:
  6. For line breaks, divide already-hyphenated words only at the hyphen:
  7. For line breaks in words ending in -ing, if a single final consonant in the root word is doubled before the suffix, hyphenate between the consonants; otherwise, hyphenate at the suffix itself:
  8. Never put the first or last letter of a word at the end or beginning of a line, and don't put two-letter suffixes at the beginning of a new line:
    lovely (Do not separate in a way which leaves ly beginning a new line.)
    eval-u-ate (Separate only on either side of the u; do not leave the initial e- at the end of a line.)

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.