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Friday, 21 February 2014

The art of hyphenation

by Liz Coyle-Camp

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate? This is the question so many nervous writers deliberate. How can such a little dash cause such a dither and so much angst when all it wants to do is bring a little clarity to your communique?

And where would we be without the humble hyphen? We’d never tell difference between a man-eating snake and a man eating snake with possible fatal consequences!

You can beat the hyphenation blues by remembering this:

Hyphens connect words, prefixes, and suffixes and bring clarity to the meaning of a word.

And following these simple rules….

Hyphenate when:
  • Using a two-word adjective: her decision-making skills, work-related stress 
  • Creating a compound noun: added-value, get-together, an add-on 
  • In prefixes: where a hyphen avoids awkward wording such as anti-inflammatory, re-enter, re-adjust, or a word has different meanings like re-formation and reformation, re-sign and resign 
  • Explaining a word spelling: H-Y-P-H-E-N

When to make a ‘dash’ for it

The hyphen has two similar-looking cousins - the en dash and the em dash. This is what they do…

Em dash (—)
  • Use instead of brackets to indicate a separate thought or additional information: She worked out in the gym — at least that’s what she told me — every day 
En dash (-)
  • Use to indicate values or ranges: 10-15 staff, 2004-2007, May-June 
  • To contrast values or illustrate the relationship between two things 

Happy hyphenating!

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