I haven’t been editing for very long, but there have been times when I’ve been unsure of how to use the hyphen correctly. A hyphen is a punctuation mark that is used to join two or more words or parts of words. There are no spaces around the hyphens.

As with most punctuation, the hyphen can be used in a variety of ways. Here are just a few ways that I’ve encountered thus far.

The most obvious use for a hyphen is when numbers are involved. Such examples include when the age/length/height of a noun is included in the writing. But, you have to remember that a hyphen will not always be used just because there is an age involved.

You would only use the hyphen, in this instance, if the double adjective also known as a phrasal adjective comes before the noun. Here’s an example of when you would use a hyphen. 

 “I have a wide, fourteen-foot-tall ladder.”

“We have a black, two-year-old dog.”

“She has pretty-looking hair.”

This next example shows when the double adjective (or even single adjective) comes after the noun

“My ladder is wide and fourteen feet tall.”

“Our dog is black and two years old.”

“Her hair was pretty looking.”

In these cases, no hyphens are needed.


The next example is an exception to the rules we’ve just gone over above.

“I received a light pink box.”

Even though the double adjective comes before the noun (when the hyphen would typically be included), this example could mean one of two things. Once you’ve determined how you want this sentence to read, is when you’ll know whether it needs a hyphen or not.

  1. It could mean it was a pink box that was light (weight). If so, it would change to: “I received a light, pink box.”
  2. It could mean the box was a light shade of pink. If so, it would change to: “I received a light-pink box.”

Either way, you want to make sure the reader knows exactly what you’re referring to when using descriptions.

We’ve looked at double adjectives, and those are pretty easy to understand.


Now let’s look at an adverb/adjective combo that is used to modify a noun.

“He was staying in an offcampus apartment.”

In this example, the adverb (off) is used to modify the adjective (campus). Whereas, the adjective (campus) is used to modify apartment.

Off = campus

Campus = apartment

The hyphen rule is different here because both words, the adverb and adjective, are modifying their own words.

If it was written as a noun before the adverb/adjective combo, it would be:

“He was staying in an apartment off campus.

No hyphen required.

It could also be written like this: “He was staying in an apartment, off campus.” 

On a side note, including a comma, “off campus” is seen clearer as simply being additional information for the sentence. Either way, this is a similar example like the double adjective previously used. Whether it’s s double adjective or adverb/adjective combo being used, if they’re before the noun, then a hyphen is required. If they’re after the noun, then you don’t need a hyphen.

Here’s a page that provides further examples: https://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-to-punctuate-descriptions-of-colors/

Here’s a page to provide some of those exceptions: https://www.grammarly.com/blog/hyphen/


Another way to use to a hyphen is when you have a prefix before a noun, adjective, or verb.

“I’m going to visit family in mid-December.”

“She had to re-enter the building after lunch.”

What about these examples?

“She was required to re-sign.” (as in sign something again)

“She was required to resign.” (as in quit her job)

Notice the first example uses a hyphen, while the second example doesn’t. Do these sentences mean the same thing? No. Therefore, a hyphen can be very important when it comes to writing.

These are just a few examples of when to or when not to use a hyphen.

Just remember, with everything in life, there are always the exceptions.

I hope you have found this blog useful. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, jokes, funnies, please feel free to contact me. Thanks for reading!


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