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The hyphen (-)

This little piece of punctuation is becoming less and less used. There are, however, occasions where the hyphen in definitely required.

If you use justified text, your computer will automatically adjust the spacing between words to ensure that you do not need to hyphenate words that have come at the end of a line. This is an extremely good thing, as the rules governing where a hyphen should fall in a given word are complicated and dull to say the very least.

There are some instances in which you will need to use a hyphen.

All words consisting of self combined with a noun:

self-expression

self-confidence

self-consciousness

In adjectives that have been formed by combining two words:

nineteenth-century history

self-paced learning exercises

off-the-peg suits

old-furniture salesman

Find out more about compound words.

Take care to use the hyphen only in situations where the hyphenated word is used as an adjective as in the above examples. Contrast these two examples:

He was an old-furniture salesman. (The furniture is old)

He was an old furniture salesman. (The salesman is old)

Tumultuous events took place in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

We have several verbs in English that consist of a verb and a preposition. Have a look at these verbs and the nouns that can be formed as a result:

to hold up ... This is a hold-up.

to wash up ... Go and do the washing-up.

to tell off ... The tutor gave him a good telling-off.

Test your understanding of the use of the hyphen with this exercise.