#138 - Hyphen or Dash (-) - English Grammar

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Hyphen or Dash

A hyphen joins two or more words or word parts together to create a new word. A dash separates two statements. They look the same, but have entirely different functions.

Hyphenated Compound Adjectives

Hyphenated compound adjectives are used before nouns. Sometimes hyphens are not used when following a noun. For example, "widely-known actor" uses a hyphen. An actor who is widely known does not use a hyphen. There are no spaces around hyphens.
  • He is a well-respected surgeon. The surgeon is well respected.
  • She is a well-known teacher is this area. The teacher is well known in this area.
  • She lives in an off-campus apartment. Her apartment is off campus.

Hyphenated Compound Nouns

Some compound nouns can be hyphenated. Hyphens are often used with the ages of people or things unless it is in plural form. Also, hyphens are used with family members that are in-laws. (mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law). There are no spaces around hyphens.
  • His self-esteem plummeted after losing the contest.
  • My daughter loves to ride the merry-go-round at the amusement park.
  • Our two-year old is very active.
  • My eight-month old is eating solid food.
  • My mother-in-law is very picky.

Hyphens - Avoid Confusion

Some hyphenated words can cause confusion and change the meaning of the sentence.
  • The athlete wants to re-sign with the team.
    (Here re-sign means to sign a contract again with his team.)
  • The athlete wants to resign.
    (Here resign means to quit.)
  • We need to re-cover our sofa. It has too many stains.
    (Here re-cover means to out a new cover on the sofa.)
  • We need to recover our sofa. It was stolen during the burglary.
    (Here recover means to get back something that was stolen.)

Hyphens in Numbers

Hyphens can be used with numbers. They are used to combine numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine. They are also used when writing out fractions. Hyphens are also used when a number is part of a compound adjective.
  • My husband will be forty-two next month.
  • I need one-third cup of sugar.
  • The pot is only two-fifths full.
  • We took a 14-day cruise around the Caribbean islands.
  • Our 12-year old dog passed away last week.

Hyphens with Prefixes

Many times, words with prefixes use hyphens. If the prefix ends in a vowel and the base word starts with a vowel, a hyphen is put in between the prefix and the base word. However, use a hyphen if the prefix is "ex-" or "self-".
  • The senator was re-elected.
  • He has a license to carry a semi-automatic weapon.
  • She is my ex-wife.
  • I am self-employed.


A dash is used to indicate a break or a pause in the sentence. It is used to emphasize a word or set of words in the sentence. There are typically spaces around dashes.
  • You may think you're the greatest - you're really not.
  • Oliver - the world's greatest dog - passed away yesterday.
  • Kate - my one and only true friend - came out to support me today.

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