Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Hyphens

I'm back from the RWA National Conference in Atlanta and ready to dive into writing again! I attended some very informative workshops, spent time with lots of writing friends, and even had professional photos taken. Check out my new profile pic for one pose! I've posted the others on Facebook.


They have a lot of uses, and some of those vary from one style to the next. Be consistent. If you use Chicago Manual of Style rules for hyphens, use it for the rest of your punctuation, titles, etc. The same goes for all other style guides. Since I refer to CMOS, I'll be following their rules.

Always use a hyphen for multiple-word numbers less than one hundred. Examples: twenty-three, sixty-eight, forty-five.
When a number over one hundred contains one of the above numbers, hyphenate only that part (except when used as a compound modifier/adjective phrase). Examples: three hundred, seven hundred one, nine hundred ninety-seven.

Compound Modifiers/Adjective Phrases
Per CMOS, use a hyphen between words used to describe a noun that follows. The exception--don't use a hyphen when using an -ly adverb with an adjective or participle for description. Examples: four-year-old boy, black-and-red plaid, slow-moving car, mostly dry towel, fully stuffed chicken.

Compound Words
Some compound words are left open, like high school. Others are closed, like heartbeat. Still others are connected by a hyphen, like self-conscious. Check your dictionary if you're unsure since you'll find a lot of exceptions.

Some words need a hyphen to avoid being misread or to give a clear understanding of the meaning. Examples: co-op instead of coop, re-creation instead of recreation, much-needed rest vs. much needed rest.

My best advice is to refer to your style guide if you're unsure about whether or not to use a hyphen. The English language is full of exceptions, and it's always evolving. What's hyphenated today may become a closed compound word in the near future!

See you next week for a summary of Comma Usage!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!


  1. Good post. Of course, your publisher's style guide or even CMOS might differ from what you are trying to make clear by putting a hyphen in. For instance, I put a hyphen in co-worker which was removed by the editor and this, to me, read as COWorker which was hysterical so I changed it to colleague. Whenever I read coworker in books I just giggle!

    1. I prefer the hyphen in co-worker as well, Jen. In my mind, that fits in with the Readability/Clarification uses. Some words really need the hyphen!

  2. I don't use hyphens very often, so this is great to know. It's a much-needed post. ;) Thanks, Mellanie.

    1. You're welcome, Siobhan! Thanks for stopping by. :)