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Hyphens - When and When not to Use Them

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Although a hyphen and a dash may appear to be the same at first glance, they are two very different marks of punctuation. Their form is as different as their meaning, a dash being twice as long as a hyphen. Dashes are used to separate or connect sentence elements whereas hyphens are used to separate or connectword elements.

Many times a hyphen is misused in writing. Here are the proper times when a hyphen should be used.

When to use a Hyphen

To Separate the Parts (When Spelling Out Numerals) of a Compound Number from Twenty-One to Ninety-Nine

thirty-six inches to a yard.
Fifty-second Street.

To Express Decades in Words

the nineteen-twenties
the eighteen-sixties

To Separate (When Spelling Out Numerals) the Numerator from the Denominator of a Fraction, Especially a Fraction that is used as an Adjective

One-third cup of milk
A three-fifths majority

To Combine the Elements of a Compound Modifier when used before the Noun it modifies

They engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
They fought hand to hand.
They endured a hand-to-mouth existence.
They lived hand to mouth.

When not to use a Hyphen

Do not use a hyphen to indicate a fraction if either the numerator or the denominator is already hyphenated.

one thirty-second
twenty-one thirty-sixths

Do not hyphenate compound nouns indicating chemical terms, military rank, or certain governmental positions.

sodium chloride
en route
vice admiral
in vitro

Do not hyphenate a compound modifier that includes an adverb ending in -ly even when it is used before the noun.

His loose-fitting jacket
A carefully guarded secret

Sample Usage

New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions.

Nineteen hundred forty-three.

An expert who is well known.

A well-guarded secret.

Long- and short-term memory.

Web-based encyclopedia

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