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Hyphen (-) Explained With Examples

Often overshadowed by its more flamboyant cousins like the exclamation mark or the question mark, the hyphen quietly plays a crucial role in our written communication because it acts as a word linker that is correlated to each other creating a profound meaning among them.

It is usually denoted by the symbol (-) which looks like a horizontal shorter line and is majorly used to enhance the clarity of words in a sentence by connecting words and creating compound adjectives. The visual cue of the hyphen (-) also provides an elegant touch to the writing since it acts as a phrase breaker so it can be easily comprehensible and digestible by the reader without ruining the rhythm of the sentence.

In other words, it has multiple use cases that revolve around the context it is used in and the rules of the grammar.

Various Uses Of Hyphen In A Sentence

Even though it’s underutilized to a great extent and is often overshadowed by other powerful punctuation marks, a hyphen(-) certainly has tons of use cases. Here are a couple of examples of how you could use it in your English material pieces.

Word Joiner

You might already be familiar with words that are connected with the horizontal line that is otherwise known as a hyphen (-). These are called compound words which are created from more than one word, in this way they are assigned a specific meaning through conjoining them.

For example, “mother-in-law,” “self-esteem,” and “well-being” are all compound words since they include more than one word that is connected together, these words are then connected with a hyphen to connect the individual words and convey their intended meaning for the reader.

Prefix Or Suffix Creator

In order to create new terminologies or provide modifications to the preexisting ones, a hyphen is used to join prefixes or suffixes for the words. 

Some of the examples include “pre-approval,” “re-evaluate,” and “anti-inflammatory” which are all examples of words where the hyphen is used to connect the prefix or suffix to the base word.

Modifier Compound Adjectives

Compound adjectives can also be created once a hyphen is inserted between two or more words to describe a noun they are often hyphenated to ensure clarity and precision. 

For example, “well-written article,” “high-pitched sound,” and “time-saving technique” are all examples of compound adjectives that utilize the hyphen to connect the words and convey their combined meaning.

The hyphen is particularly crucial when the compound adjective precedes the noun it modifies. In order to remove the room for ambiguity and make the relationship much more concise and readable, a hyphen is insertedFor instance, compare “a fast-moving car” (describing a car that moves quickly) with “a fast-moving car” (describing a car that is quick to move).

For Clarification Purposes

The most common mistake that occurs in the English language is the lack of hyphens in between phrases. Such absence or lack of hyphen results in sentence misinterpretation and to some extent it even downright changes the meaning of it.

Consider the phrase “The fast food restaurant.” in this statement, we clearly can see that it could be interpreted as a food that is fast which wouldn’t make any sense at all. However, with a hyphen, “The fast-food restaurant,” it becomes clear that it refers to the fast-food joint.

Here is another example of how the lack of a hyphen can make the sentence sound a whole lot different.

Incorrect: “She is a big time movie star.”

Correct: “She is a big-time movie star.”

As you can clearly see, in the incorrect version “big time movie star” could cause confusion as it wouldn’t make much sense, However, once a hyphen is placed between “big” and “time,” it is clarified that the phrase refers to a girl who is a popular actress in the industry.

Fraction Definer

A hyphen plays a major role in combining a numerator and denominator when it is written in words, it helps readers attain an idea in a much more profound way.

For example ¼ of the crowd is translated into words which could be written as one-fourth of the crowd. Henceforth, one” (numerator) and “fourth” (denominator) of the crowd are joined with a hyphen to indicate the fraction “one-fourth.”

Expression of Time

In order to make the exact timing much more readable and comprehensible for the reader, a hyphen can be used. For instance “five o’clock” or “four-thirty” illuminates the fact that there is a clear correlation between hours and minutes.

Are there any exceptions to the rules of hyphenation?

In some scenarios, there is indeed some exception to words such as website or email which were originally written with a hyphen in between i.e. web-site and e-mail, however, due to them being widely accepted and written with the hyphen, the rule of exception for these words has taken place.

Do hyphenation rules vary for British and US-based English?

Absolutely, there are some regional rules that often take place especially if you take a look at British English material pieces where hyphenation is quite common as compared to US-based English material which indicates that hyphenation rules do indeed vary from one country to another. It is highly important to be wary of hyphen usage especially if you are writing a professional report or document.

Is There A Difference Between A Dash & Hyphen?

While at first glance they both might look the same, a dash and hyphen are indeed quite different in nature and their use cases cannot be utilized in a similar fashion. A hyphen (-) is shorter and is primarily used to connect words or parts of words. meanwhile, the dash (—) is quite a longer horizontal line and has various functions such as indicating a pause, setting off a phrase, or introducing a list. It is important to use the appropriate punctuation mark based on the specific context and grammatical rules.

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