What is a Hyphen? - Rules & Examples

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  • 0:04 What Is a Hyphen?
  • 0:22 What About Dashes?
  • 1:01 Rules and Examples
  • 3:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joelle Brummitt-Yale

Joelle has taught middle school Language Arts and college academic writing. She has a master's degree in education.

In this lesson, we'll learn what the hyphen punctuation mark is, how the hyphen is different from a dash, and the main rules for using hyphens in your writing.

What Is a Hyphen?

We often see unusual punctuation marks in sentences and aren't quite sure what they're called. We see / or ; or even -. The last of these, -, is the hyphen. A hyphen is used to join together two words to create a new word.

What About Dashes?

As you read the definition of the hyphen, you may have been thinking, 'Oh, yeah, a hyphen is a dash!' However, you'd be incorrect. While hyphens and dashes look similar, they serve different functions in writing. The hyphen is only used to join two words together and is just one horizontal line long. It looks like this: -.

A dash, on the other hand, is used to interrupt the flow of a sentence, to create an effect, or to show that the sentence's writer is changing thoughts. A dash looks like this: —. Dashes and hyphens, though they appear almost the same on the page, are not interchangeable.

Rules and Examples

There are many rules associated with using hyphens. We're going to explore the rules that you'll use most often in your writing.

Rule #1: Use a hyphen to create a compound adjective when that adjective is used before a noun in a sentence.

This rule is easier than it appears. We often use adjectives, descriptive words that modify nouns, to add details to our sentences. Sometimes, we want to use two adjectives together to create a single modifier. These two adjectives, when joined by a hyphen, become a compound adjective.

Here are some examples:

  • Alexa's parents ordered an extra-special cake for her birthday party.
  • My new apartment has on-street parking.

Rule #2: When a prefix is used with a root word and that root word ends with the same vowel as the prefix, use a hyphen to avoid confusion.

Here's an example:

  • The voters re-elected the president for another term.

Rule #3: When the prefixes ex-, self-, or all- are used to start a word, use a hyphen between the prefix and the root word.

Now, here are some examples:

  • Her ex-husband is getting remarried.
  • Mario was known as a self-assured athlete.
  • Stella's new job proved to be all-encompassing.

Rule #4: Use a hyphen between two numbers in a compound number. A compound number is a number that includes two number words within it.

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