Hyphen Nation

It’s easy to become confused over the proper use of the humble hyphen. The main purpose of which is to join two (or more) words together, thereby making them a single compound word with its own meaning. As in:

  • an ex-President is a former President.
  • a co-director works with another director.

The absence of a hyphen can also lead to misunderstanding:

  • I must re-cover the sofa (with new material).
  • I must recover the sofa (from the person I lent it to).
  • After his time in prison, he was a reformed character (no longer a criminal).
  • They re-formed the band and played in the garage (started up again).

Prefixes like co- and pre- should have a hyphen when next to a word beginning with the same vowel, as in: co-ordinate, pre-empt.

Hyphens can contribute considerably to clarity, as in:

You must read two hundred odd pages a day which gives the impression you are only to read the odd pages, hence the hyphen in: You must read two hundred-odd pages a day.

There are several word combinations which are hyphenated when they come before a noun, but not when they come after, as in these examples.

  • He is a well-known author.
  • This author is well known.
  • She is a part-time worker.
  • She works part time.

It’s all as clear as mud, I hear you say. Ah, don’t you just love the English language.