The Pesky Hyphen
by Helen, published 12/18/2013
- To link two or more words that serve as an adjective: collective-bargaining talks, cross-border transaction, 28-year-old manager, $4 billion-dollar company, 2-for-1 stock split. But don’t go overboard. If the meaning of a phrase is clear without a hyphen, don’t use one: best seller list, real estate agent, income tax form, thank you note, foreign exchange rates.
- To join two or more words to form a single idea: African-American.
- To separate double letters: semi-independent, pre-existing.
- To avoid writing words that may be unclear without a hyphen: re-form.
- To form words with the prefixes ex- and self-: ex-banker, self-explanatory.
- To join a single letter to another word: X-rated, y-axis, T-shirt.
- To form a title that joins two equal nouns: secretary-treasurer.
- To avoid repetition at the end of a word or number: The 65- and 66-year old employees retired last week. The second- and third-quarter results will be released next month. The medium- and long-term goals must be linked. (These are called suspensive hyphens.)
- To spell out numbers when they cannot be written as numerals, for instance, at the beginning of a sentence, as in Twenty-five.
- To spell out fractions in amounts less than 1 in text. Approximately one-third of employees work in the Asia-Pacific region.
- To break words at the end of lines by syllable.