How to Use Hyphens

If you don’t know yet, I’m a proofreader and editor by trade. That means I’ve come across numerous essays, book manuscripts, business documents, and media content. I’ve proofread and edited my way through some pretty interesting–some pretty dense– bodies of work. I’ve enjoyed it all, but, I’ve noticed that many don’t really know how to use hyphens.

Let’s get rid of some of the confusion, shall we?

How to Use Hyphens

What do they do:

  • Show relationships between two or more words in text, especially if it gets confusing to read.
  • String words together that modify or describe a noun.

For example:


  • String words together to create a made up idea.
    • I’m going to video-game my way through this obstacle course like I video-game my way through life.
    • Look at that kareoke-ninja dancer!


  • Hyphen words with these prefixes: self-, ex-, all-.
    • Be self-assured that the ex-president of the company wasn’t all-knowing.
  • Hyphen words with these suffixes: -elect, -style.
    • The mayor-elect really likes these country-style chairs.
  • Hyphen prefixes that go before proper nouns and adjectives.
    • The flowers should bloom mid-August.
  • Use hyphens for compound numbers, spelled-out fractions, and spans.
    • Aren’t you bringing twenty-five cakes for the party?
    • I worked there for one-fourth of my life.
    • This place seats 10-15 people.


  • Hyphen prefixes if words are confusing to read.
    • Co-worker vs. coworker.
  • Hyphen words with these suffixes: -free, -based.


  • Leave spaces between the hyphen and the word.


Words I find in editing a lot that should be hyphenated:

All-day, sure-fire, middle-aged, much-needed, topsy-turvy, leave-taking, kick-start, twelve-step program, lovey-dovey, good-bye, ever-increasing, double-digit, low-key, closed-minded, hair-raising, long-lasting, half-hour, wife-beater.

Happy Fourth of July!