The four easy rules to help determine where to place hyphens


Even the sticklers who can spot a stray apostrophe a mile off may struggle over when to use a hyphen.

But help is at hand for those who are unsure of where to put one.

A study of more than 10,000 words, including hyphens, has found that four basic rules will work 75 per cent of the time.

A study of more than 10,000 words, including hyphens, has found that four basic rules will work 75 per cent of the time. If a word is a verb, adjective or adverb, it probably needs a hyphen. Chain-smoke and broken-down are good examples

A study of more than 10,000 words, including hyphens, has found that four basic rules will work 75 per cent of the time. If a word is a verb, adjective or adverb, it probably needs a hyphen. Chain-smoke and broken-down are good examples

A study of more than 10,000 words, including hyphens, has found that four basic rules will work 75 per cent of the time. If a word is a verb, adjective or adverb, it probably needs a hyphen. Chain-smoke and broken-down are good examples

Christina Sanchez-Stockhammer, who is a linguistics professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, produced the rules after examining thousands of English words

Christina Sanchez-Stockhammer, who is a linguistics professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, produced the rules after examining thousands of English words

Christina Sanchez-Stockhammer, who is a linguistics professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, produced the rules after examining thousands of English words

If a word is a verb, adjective or adverb, it probably needs a hyphen. Chain-smoke and broken-down are good examples.

For nouns with two syllables, like break-up and set-to, the rule is easy – use a hyphen if the second word has two letters. 

If the second part has more letters, it should be spelt as one word, like coastline or bedroom. 

And if the noun has three or more syllables, it is two separate words. Examples here include bathing suit and washing machine.

Christina Sanchez-Stockhammer, who is a linguistics professor at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, produced the rules after examining thousands of English words. 

She said: ‘A whole range of factors can have an influence on how compound words are typically spelled. But on a general level, it all boils down to a few simple guidelines.’

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She has published exceptions to the rules, and additional guidelines for hyphens, in a book called English Compounds and their Spelling. It is published by Cambridge University Press.





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