There is a progression in the spelling of a compound. Many times, it starts out as two words, becomes joined with a hyphen, and then becomes one word. Therefore, it’s very important to consult a recent dictionary or online resource to determine how a compound should be spelled. Don’t hesitate to also check our 236 free and powerful practice tests

The next lesson: Making Commas Flow, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.

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Now, remember that just because you join a compound with a hyphen in one instance doesn’t mean you will always use a hyphen to join that compound. So, it’s important to evaluate a compound on a case-by-case basis to determine if the use of a hyphen is necessary.

So, I’m going to break down for you some of the most common instances when you should use hyphens.

You should use a hyphen to join a compound when it is a compound adjective, directly before the noun it describes.

Here’s a prime example:

He wore a mud-stained shirt.”

So, here, “mud-stained” is a compound adjective right before the noun it describes, which is “shirt“.

If I were to say to you:

His shirt is mud stained.”

It would not need a hyphen. “Mud stained” would still be an adjective describing the shirt, but it would come after the noun it describes, not before.

Then, you also use hyphens to describe family relationships, such as brother-in-law, father-in-law, or mother-in-law.

And then, you use a hyphen when spelling out numbers. If you’re spelling out a number anywhere from twenty-one to ninety-nine, you need to spell it out and use a hyphen.

Now, once you get to a number above ninety-nine, such as one hundred, you still need to spell it out, but you don’t need a hyphen.

And then, from there, if you’re spelling out a number, it would require you to use three words to spell it, then you just write out the digits that make up the number, such as 102.

Now, here, we have two examples of the use of “two thirds“.

Only two thirds of the assembly were present.”

The proposition passed by a two-thirds majority.”

So, you probably notice that here, no hyphen is used, and here, a hyphen is used.

Well, in this case, “two thirds” is an adjective, and remember that a compound adjective directly before the noun it describes needs to have a hyphen.

So, this is a compound adjective directly before the noun it describes. So, it needs to hyphenated.

Now, here, you may be thinking that “two thirds” is modifying “assembly“, but “assembly” is actually an object of a preposition. See, “of” is the preposition, and “assembly” is the object of the preposition.

So, really, you could just take the prepositional phrase out of the sentence, and it would read like this:

Only two thirds were present.”

Well, here, it’s quite obvious that “two thirds” is the noun of the sentence. So, since it’s a noun, not an adjective, it does not need a hyphen.

So, remember, earlier I said you need to determine, or you need to evaluate a compound on a case-by-case basis to determine if the use of a hyphen is necessary.

This is a great example of that. Here, we have the same compound in both sentences, but since they’re used in different ways, one needs a hyphen and the other doesn’t.

You also need hyphens when you have a compound that includes the word “self“.

Now, there are some exceptions to this, such as “selfless“, which does not need a hyphen.

When you use “ex” or “pro” before a word, you need a hyphen.

Whenever you are writing on a sentence and the last word of the sentence won’t quite make it on that line, and you have to continue on the next line, it’s appropriate to break up the word. However, you need to break it up between syllables. So, “giraffe“, for example, has two syllables. So, you couldn’t just put a hyphen wherever you please, maybe after the “r” or the “a“, it has to be between the “i” and the “r“, because you can’t do a break in between a syllable.

Now, if this doesn’t work for you, and it won’t fit this way, then you can just leave an extra big space on that line and write the entire word on the next line.

Also, you use a hyphen to avoid confusions with the spelling of a word.

So, here, you have the word “integral”, and you want to add “semi” to it. Well, if you didn’t have a hyphen here, the “i“s would be next to each other, which would create some confusion as to how to pronounce the word. So, by putting a hyphen, it really clears things up.

But, there are some exceptions to this, such as “coordinate“. Most people don’t even think of “coordinate” as a compound, but really, this could be written with a hyphen between the two “o“s. But now, this word is so commonplace that a hyphen is no longer needed.

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The next lesson: Making Commas Flow, both lessons are included in Practice Tests.



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