The use of hyphens (e.g. free-to-air, with no spaces between letters) is classed as ‘word punctuation’. Mostly, hyphens indicate that two or more words or numbers are to be read together (compound words) to create a single or new unit of meaning. There are no simple rights and wrongs for hyphenating words. You need to use a dictionary to check whether a compound expression is acceptable as separate words, as a joined-up single word or a hyphenated word. Even well-known dictionaries can follow different rules (e.g. from one dictionary: eyeball, eye shadow, eye-catching). If you can’t find the word in the dictionary, write as separate words. You will need to know about:
- Hyphens in compound words
- Hyphens to add prefixes
- Hyphens in written numbers
- Good resources for hyphens
Common one-word compounds
alongside, another, aftermath, anybody, background, beforehand, bookmaker, bypass, brainstorm, cannot, commonplace, downpour, elsewhere, everywhere, everything, however, input, keyboard, keypad, mainland, meantime, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, rattlesnake, roadblock, scarecrow, somewhat, spokesperson, stocktaking, therefore, underachievement, underdeveloped, underestimate, underground, update, upheaval, whatever, widespread, without
Most truck transport is undertaken by owner-drivers.
Sparta was a city-state in ancient Greece.
The editor-in-chief of the newspaper was my mother-in-law.
The transport minister gave the go-ahead for the road project.
The athlete showed a single-mindedness of intent in his desire to win.
Research shows that accident-prone people are likely to be distracted and stressed.
There is an alarming rise in self-induced injuries among young teenagers.
It is a well-established fact that the teenage years can be emotionally turbulent.
A decision to close the hospital had far-reaching implications for country people.
University essay writing requires a word processing program that is up-to-date.
Health workers were striving to keep the community disease-free.
|Prefix||+ existing word||= new word|
anti, auto, bi, co, counter, di, dis, ex, extra, hyper, hypo, inter, intra, mis, neo, non, post, pro, re, semi, sub, super, supra, un
Hyphen used to avoid vowel confusion
de-ice, de-emphasise, pre-eminent, re-enter, anti-aircraft, semi-official
Hyphen used to avoid confusion with other words
|Prefix+hyphen+word||Meaning||Word without hyphen||Meaning|
|re-sign||sign again||resign||give up a job|
|re-creation||exact reproduction||recreation||a fun activity|
|re-cover||cover again||recover||get better|
Four general rules for using a hyphen to add a prefix
|Use a hyphen to add a prefix when:||Examples|
|the prefix is followed by a capital letter||non-English speaking, un-Australian, pre-Christianity|
|the prefix is followed by an expression in italics or quotes||take an anti-‘reconciliation’ stance|
|using co- (meaning joint) and ex- (meaning former)||co-host of a show, ex-president of the company|
|adding e- (for electronic)||e-book, e-resource, e-commerce (but not email)|
When you use numbers in writing, there are a number of rules for using hyphens.
Numbers 21 to 99 in words
twenty-seven; four hundred and fifty-five; thirty-six thousand
Fractions in words
one-quarter; three-halves; two and three-quarters
Three general rules for using a hyphen to express dates, eras and numbers
|Use a hyphen when you use:||Examples|
|a prefix preceding a date||post-1929; pre-1770|
|‘century’ as part of a compound adjective||sixteenth-century art (but art created in the sixteenth century)|
|the suffixes ‘fold’ or ‘odd’ after a number||2000-odd people attended the rally; the purpose of the project was three-fold|
Make sure that you have a good, up-to-date Australian dictionary. It is best to choose one dictionary and keep with the hyphenation practices of that publication. Good online dictionaries will give you the most up-to-date information.
The Macquarie Dictionary 6th edition (2013)
The Macquarie Dictionary Online (updated annually)
The Australian Oxford Dictionary 2nd edition (2004)