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6 Scenarios Where Using a Hyphen is Just Plain Wrong


Updated: November 25, 2015

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  1. Thank you, Caitlin! I keep studying these beasts and hope that proper hyphenation will become second nature. It tripped me up this week flying through a rush transcript. I will improve! I must master the art of hyphenation.

    1. Caitlin,

      Thank you for the post. I’m guilty of all scenarios at different times. I will be much more aware of misusing hyphens in the future!

      Mary

  2. Thank you very much, Caitlin. These hyphen scenarios really helped me realize how much I didn’t really know about when not to use hyphens. I “thought” I knew all about when and when not to use hyphens, but this lesson was an eye-opener! I find this very interesting stuff to learn, especially to improve my proofreading skills.

    1. Caitlin, I have never realized how much it took to really engage in proofreading. This is one course not to ever forget. I am sure to be guilty using incorrect punctuation.
      Thank you for the eye opener.

  3. Great site to which you linked! I thought I was pretty good with hyphens, but I, apparently, still have some things to learn about them.

  4. I got most of them. The only one I think will give me a challenge is the “very” and “ly” ending adverbs rule. But, thanks for the list. It will be good to keep handy as a reminder for any fuzzy slips?

    1. Jane, I had NEVER heard of this rule! I am so glad to have learned it. I would have been very embarrassed had I missed it in a transcript.

  5. Dear Caitlin,

    Thank you so much for this great post! It’s great to be able to enjoy this passion of quality!

  6. Full-time and part-time used to stump me. Now I know to hyphenate when the word precedes a noun, but do not hyphenate when it follows a noun. Ex: She is a part-time student. She attends school part time.

          1. As long as the reporter was consistent, should I even bring it up in order to find out if it is a preference or just a rule she does not know?

      1. It never hurts to ask a reporter’s preference on something in a follow-up email. It could save you a lot of time and guesswork in the long run.

  7. I have to admit, I don’t often use hyphens, and it’s because it is easier to write sentences differently than to remember all of these rules! Thank you for this post. I will study them and, hopefully, become more comfortable with them!

  8. Thanks Caitlin! I was expecting this to be a post about using hyphens with compound adjectives, but this was helpful. If you could share some tips about using hyphens with compound adjectives, that would be great.

      1. I really have had to leave my ego at the door for this one. There are some hyphen rule I truly did not know.

  9. Helpful. I cannot figure out the em and en dashes. How do you place them/use them? I know you said a double dash would work, but is that how we are to correct with iAnnotate, using the double dash? I know this seems silly, but it has been driving me nuts. 🙂

    Also, would love to see some more info and help with compound adjectives and compound words, in general. I’m having a hard time figuring out how to know for sure if a word is closed, open, or hyphenated, like “college coursework”/course work (find both in different dictionaries)? These are tripping me up big time.

    1. Em dashes (usually double hyphens), in transcripts, are used chiefly for hesitations/interruptions. You see them when people talk over each other, with false starts, or if someone just abruptly starts a new sentence (changing thoughts). I’ve never seen en dashes in transcripts, so it’s unlikely you’ll come across one. I know what you mean about the compound words 🙂 I always look them up, and if I see it’s okay to be used both ways, I make sure the reporter is consistent with just one way throughout the job.

      1. Is there much involving em/en (l,o,p…oops, sorry) dashes on the WST? Also, why DO they use a space? It seems much neater without them. Is that just stylistic preference or a hard and fast rule?

        1. There is a wide variety of material covered on the WST: a little of this, a little of that. If you have a good overall grasp of grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation, you will do fine on the WST. You’ll understand that I can’t answer your question any more concretely than that. 🙂

          There are many preferential things in transcripts, but the spaces around dashes is not one of them. Always use spaces.

  10. Thanks so much for this post, Caitlin! Your tips, plus the grammarbook.com link that you added to your post, really helped me to understand the rules for hyphens. It’s so nice to have clear, concrete hyphen rules! Now I feel like I’ll no longer have to second-guess myself. Thanks again!

  11. Thank you for the post and the link to the hypen website. The hyphen rule is the one rule that gets me stumped all the time. Now, I have more resources to study this punctuation.

  12. Yes, I am confused about the em and en dashes too. And I know they are created differently on Apple computers than they do on Windows. I haven’t gotten my iPad yet, so I’m not sure about iAnnotate. But yes, some help about em and en dashes would be lovely!

  13. Great advice! This is the kind of common sense and old fashioned grammar, drilled into us by the nuns at my elementary school.

  14. Great post, Caitlin. Very helpful. I tend to not use hyphens as much as possible, but I feel much more comfortable with the rules now. You’re the best!

  15. I’m opposite… I hardly ever use hyphens because I don’t know when they should be used! So thanks for the tips — now I know WHEN to use them! (See what I did there?

    1. Psssst! ::whispers:: Don’t look now, but your closing parenthesis escaped! They’re slippery little things!

  16. Hi Caitlyn! I have a question. Is it em dash or en dash? It is shown both ways in this article.

    Also, I am truly enjoying this course! Thank you very much.

    Gina

  17. Is it acceptable to use commas in the following example?
    Whatever your mom says (even if it’s crazy), just do it.

    So it would be: Whatever your mom says, even if it’s crazy, just do it.

    1. Hi, Ellnank!

      Yep. I would say so. Caitlin refers to these as midsentence side notes (if I remember correctly!), which I think is a perfect way to describe them! The commas are offsetting an element that’s really not necessary to make the sentence make sense. If you took out that part, the sentence would read, “Whatever your mom says, just do it.” If it can be taken out, it’s usually okay to offset it with commas. 🙂

  18. There is a hyphen in made up words that end in “-wise,” though; right?
    Such as “educational-wise,” “transportation-wise,” etc.

    1. Hi, Reddhedd!

      Not necessarily. If it aids in readability, it might be permissible, like if it follows a digit. However, Merriam-Webster and Morson’s Rule 164 says that it is generally printed solid. See the examples Merriam-Webster gives here. Scroll down to see it written as a suffix. 🙂

  19. I found this post interesting, but a little confusing at times. I completely agree with all of the incorrect uses of hyphens, as well as the corrections. What bugged me the most about the post actually had very little to do with hyphens, so I feel like a nitpicker by pointing it out, but it is something that I feel I need to address for my own peace of mind. There were several instances in the post that you mentioned a type of dash, but it was spelled two different ways throughout the post: en and em. Never having heard about this type of dash before, I am not entirely sure which spelling is correct, or if it even matters. Help me, please!

    1. Hi, Amanda!

      If you look at the title of this post, you’ll see that it is meant to highlight the improper use of the hyphen, which is why it focused solely on how they are predominantly misused. 🙂

      Also, to clarify, the en dash and the em dash are two separate punctuation marks. I recommend checking out this post to clarify the difference between the two. I hope this helps! 🙂

      1. Now I’m confused. On the grammarbook.com post, it says to use a hyphen.

        “Rule 8a. Hyphenate all spelled-out fractions. But do not hyphenate fractions introduced with a or an.

        Examples:
        More than one-third of registered voters oppose the measure.
        More than a third of registered voters oppose the measure.”

        Is it a style preference, or am I just missing something?

        Interesting post. I can always improve on my hyphens. 🙂

  20. Thank you for proving me correct on the em dash usage. I’ve been figuratively ripped apart by people who swear that one should use a single dash, no matter what the context.

  21. I thought I knew a lot about punctuation and grammar; I have now been reminded there is always more to learn! However, taking the quiz on hyphens helped me see my instincts are basically correct; I just did’ know why. Thank you, Caitlin!

  22. Well, It sure does feel good, to finally face a weakness. A weakness of uncertainty and try and try to understand not so complicated, when it is explained in the right format with great detail. This is a course that every single high school graduate needs; before getting a diploma. What you have done is very noble. The government contractors need this course, like a headache. LoL. Some of the grant writers as well.

    Thank you, for this brave and outrageous mission.

  23. I needed this lesson! I am a culprit of the misused hyphen!

    Why though, would we use an em dash or en dash in place of a colon, comma, semi colon, etc…, when we could just use those? Is there a rule as to when you use them instead of a comma, for example? Or is it just preference or style choice?

  24. “En dash (En rule)
    An en dash or en rule (–) is wider than a hyphen (-) and narrower than an em dash (–). The en dash is neglected by many writers except as a substitute for an em dash, and even then it is increasingly replaced with a hyphen to mark a pause or parenthesis, especially online and, less commonly, in print journalism.”

    Can I just say, after my first (and definitely NOT last time going over this page, I’ll probably do it every day!) I am baffled! Totally! Baffled!

    En dashes, Em dashes…never heard of them before this course (just “dashes”), and the only difference is one is “narrower” than the other? Who measures them? “Narrower” implies it’s width from top to bottom. Whaaaat??? While a hyphen is shorter! By how much??? GAHH! My brain hurts!They certainly didn’t teach us about that in grammar (Hah!) school! I’m seriously wondering if I should go back to school and take some punctuation/grammar courses. So many things are different than what I was taught! It’s freaking me out, Man! PANIC CITY.

    Okay…okay…okay…it’s Monday, this was a heck of a way to start it…bit of an anxiety attack there…sorry. ::Deep Breaths:: But seriously, this is REALLY confusing!

    Ah, that also raises the question. Where does the ellipses, which I myself am overly fond of using, fall into all this? At least I think that’s the proper name for “…”?

    1. Semicolons would be incorrect there, but you can make an argument for commas. There are other uses for semicolons other than separating independent clauses, but this isn’t one of them. Grammar Girl has a pretty decent list is you’re just dying to satisfy your semicolon curiosity. 🙂

  25. Hey, maybe I missed this, but when a word is separated at the end of a sentence down to the next line, which mark is used? Just for reference, I assume that doesn’t happen much with legal transcripts.

      1. I didn’t think so. However, as an English Major, I am curious exactly what line I was using to seperate the words occasionally when I typed out a paper. Mind you, it seldom happened, usually only with really long words–I took a LOT of Shakespeare, Chaucer, etc. Also I read a LOT, can’t sleep without it. So I see it occasionally, and can’t tell if it’s a Hyphen or an En Dash, or something else altogether. I haven’t dealt with this many lines coming at me since I was doing the club scene in my 20s!

  26. All these ads in the blogs, which have become part of the course content, are driving me CRAZY! Wish we could print out the blog post only, with no ads and no comments. Maybe a print button, like some of the other blog posts would help? OK, mind clear now.

  27. I never in my life, have used hyphens or em dashes. Never knew what was their purpose; so thank you so much for the info Caitlin

    Lucero (Sara)

  28. Hyphens!!! For me it’s not so much in using them incorrectly, it’s just not seeing where they belong, so they don’t get put in where they belong. I’m reading the transcript, moving right along, and I see everything except where the hyphen goes! I think, for the most part, I know how to use them. It’s just catching them when they are missing. The darn little boogers.
    I did the quiz you linked and got 12 out of 12 correct. This is thanks to you, Caitlyn, and this course that I’m taking.
    I was quite pleased with my score!

  29. This was definitely the most confusing lesson for me so far. I will have to study this section quite a bit. The en and em dashes are really tripping me up.

    1. Dashes can be confusing because they’re not used consistently (or usually correctly) in everyday English. Keep working. You can do it!

  30. Oh my goodness, I never knew that hyphens could be so difficult. I have a presentation to do about the hyphens, and I’m not thrilled about the whole process.

  31. YAY! I took both hyphen quizzes and scored 100% on both 🙂 This is, of course, after I couldn’t figure out how to get the em dash to show up on another post and just left it like that. I’m sure there will be comments! Would it be appropriate to use “–” as an em dash if it doesn’t auto-correct?

  32. I saw the ” print” button somewhere, but seem to have lost it while going back and forth between web pages (is that hyphenated?!). How do I print the hyphen rules?

    1. I didn’t see a “print” button, either! 🙂 You might just have to do a File->Print of the hyphen page on GrammarBook.com in your browser. Hope that helps!

  33. Dear Caitlin,

    Like you, I’m an awesome proofreader. Unfortunately I’m not much of a businessman up to this point since I’m 45 and still make a dismally low salary (note that no hyphen was used between “dismally” and “low”). I get tired of seeing the writing of so many people, even highly paid executives, riddled with errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation. I have enough tact not to point out people’s errors to them, but the temptation to “play English teacher” is strong. Does good writing really matter anymore in the business world, or do I need to stop being such a “perfectionist” in order to become a more effective businessman?

    Signed,
    Jeff

    1. Good writing DOES matter, especially to people who want to communicate and/or offer quality products and services. Don’t underestimate the value of your skills! 🙂

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