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The hyphen (‐) is a punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word. The use of hyphens is called hyphenation. The hyphen should not be confused with dashes (‒, –, —, ―), which are longer and have different uses, or with the minus sign (−), which is also longer.
In terms of an orthographic concept, the hyphen is a single entity. In terms of character encoding and display, that entity is represented by any of several characters and glyphs (including hard hyphens, soft or optional hyphens, and nonbreaking hyphens), depending on the context of use (discussed below).
Although, as mentioned above, hyphens are not to be confused with en dashes and minus signs, there are some overlaps in usage (in which either a hyphen or an en dash may be acceptable, depending on user preference; discussed below) and in character encoding (which often uses the same character, called a "hyphen-minus", to represent both the hyphen and minus sign entities; discussed below).
The term ἡ ὑφέν (hyphén) was used for a caret-like (^) sign written below two consecutive letters to indicate that they belong to the same word (where it was necessary to avoid ambiguities in times before the space was used regularly).
Hyphens are mostly used to break single words into parts, or to join ordinarily separate words into single words. Spaces should not be placed between a hyphen and either of the words it connects except when using a suspended or "hanging" hyphen (e.g. nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers).
A definitive collection of hyphenation rules does not exist; rather, different manuals of style prescribe different usage guidelines. The rules of style that apply to dashes and hyphens have evolved to support ease of reading in complex constructions; editors often accept deviations from them that will support, rather than hinder, ease of reading.
The use of the hyphen in English compound nouns and verbs has, in general, been steadily declining. Compounds that might once have been hyphenated are increasingly left with spaces or are combined into one word. In 2007, the sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary removed the hyphens from 16 000 entries, such as fig-leaf (now fig leaf), pot-belly (now pot belly) and pigeon-hole (now pigeonhole). The advent of the Internet and the increasing prevalence of computer technology have given rise to a subset of common nouns that may have been hyphenated in the past (e.g. "toolbar", "hyperlink", "pastebin").
Despite decreased use, hyphenation remains the norm in certain compound modifier constructions and, amongst some authors, with certain prefixes (see below). Hyphenation is also routinely used to avoid unsightly spacing in justified texts (for example, in newspaper columns).
When flowing text, it is sometimes preferable to break a word in half so that it continues on another line rather than moving the entire word to the next line. The word may be divided at the nearest breakpoint between syllables, and a hyphen inserted to indicate that the letters form a word fragment, rather than a full word. This allows more efficient use of paper, allows more regular appearance of right-side margins without requiring spacing adjustments, reduces the problem of rivers, and avoids the need to erase long words begun near the end of a line that do not fit. This kind of hyphenation is most useful when the width of the column of text is very narrow. For example:
We, therefore, the
We, therefore, the represen-
The details of doing this properly are complex and language-dependent and can interact with other orthographic and typesetting practices. Hyphenation algorithms, when employed in concert with dictionaries, are sufficient for all but the most formal texts. See also justification.
Certain prefixes (co-, pre-, mid-, de-, non-, anti-, etc.) may or may not be hyphenated. Many long-established words, such as preamble, degrade, and prefix, do not require a hyphen since the prefix is viewed as fully fused. In other cases, usage varies depending on individual or regional preference. British English tends towards hyphenation (pre-school) whereas American English and Australian English tend towards omission of the hyphen (preschool). A hyphen is mandatory when a prefix is applied to a proper (capitalized) adjective (un-American, de-Stalinisation).
In British English, hyphens may be employed where readers would otherwise be tempted into a mispronunciation (e.g., co-worker is so punctuated partly to prevent the reader's eye being caught automatically by the word cow). The AP Stylebook provides further information on the use of "co-" as a prefix.
Hyphens may be used, in association with prefixes, suffixes or otherwise, when repeated vowels or consonants are pronounced separately rather than being silent or merged in a diphthong. For example: shell-like, anti-intellectual. In the vowel-vowel case, some English authorities use a diaeresis (as in coöperation, rather than co-operation or cooperation), but this style is now rare.
Hyphens are occasionally used to denote syllabification, as in syl-la-bi-fi-ca-tion. Most British and North American dictionaries use an interpunct, sometimes called a "middle dot" or "hyphenation point", for this purpose, as in syl·la·bi·fi·ca·tion. Similarly, hyphens may be used to indicate a word is being or should be spelled. For example, W-O-R-D spells "word".
Compound modifiers are groups of two or more words that jointly modify the meaning of another word. When a compound modifier other than an adverb–adjective combination appears before a term, the compound modifier is often hyphenated to prevent misunderstanding, such as in American-football player or little-celebrated paintings. Without the hyphen, there is potential confusion about whether the writer means a "player of American football" or an "American player of football" and whether the writer means paintings that are 'little celebrated' or 'celebrated paintings' that are little. Compound modifiers can extend to three or more words, as in ice-cream-flavored candy, and can be adverbial as well as adjectival (spine-tinglingly frightening). However, if the compound is a familiar one, it is usually unhyphenated. For example, at least one style guide prefers the construction high school students, to high-school students. Although the expression is technically ambiguous ("students of a high school"/"school students that are on drugs"/"students of grand physical stature"/"students elevated to great altitude"), it would normally be formulated differently if other than the first meaning were intended. Noun–noun compound modifiers may also be written without a hyphen when no confusion is likely: grade point average and department store manager. When the modifier is an adverb ending in -ly or when one of the parts is a proper noun or a proper adjective, there is no hyphen (e.g. a badly written novel or "a South American actor).
When a compound modifier follows the term to which it applies, a hyphen is typically not used. For example, "that gentleman is well respected", not "that gentleman is well-respected". Some authorities differ, and recommend the hyphen when the compound adjective follows the verb to be or any of its inflections.
In the 19th century, it was common to hyphenate adverb–adjective modifiers with the adverb ending in -ly. However, this has become rare. For example, wholly owned subsidiary and quickly moving vehicle are unambiguous, because the adverbs clearly modify the adjectives: "quickly" cannot modify "vehicle". However, if an adverb can also function as an adjective, then a hyphen may be or should be used for clarity, depending on the style guide. For example, the phrase more-important reasons ("reasons that are more important") is distinguished from more important reasons ("additional important reasons"), where more is an adjective. Similarly, more-beautiful scenery (with a mass-noun) is distinct from more beautiful scenery. (In contrast, the hyphen in "a more-important reason/a more important reason" is not necessary.) The hyphen in little-celebrated paintings clarifies that one is not speaking of little paintings.
Hyphens are used to connect numbers and words in modifying phrases, particularly with weights and measures, whether using numerals or words for the numbers, as in 28-year-old woman and twenty-eight-year-old woman or 320-foot wingspan. The same usually holds for abbreviated time units. Hyphens are also used in spelled-out fractions as adjectives (but not as nouns), such as two-thirds majority and one-eighth portion. However, with symbols for SI units—as opposed to the names of these units—both the International Bureau of Weights and Measures and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology recommend use without a hyphen: a 25 kg sphere. When the units are spelled out, this recommendation does not apply: a 25-kilogram sphere, a roll of 35-millimeter film.
In English, an en dash ( – ) sometimes replaces the hyphen in hyphenated compounds if either of its constituent parts is already hyphenated or contains a space, for example San Francisco–area residents or public-school–private-school rivalries. (For other aspects of en dash–versus–hyphen usage, see Dash > En dash.)
When an object is compounded with a verbal noun, such as egg-beater (a tool that beats eggs), the result is sometimes hyphenated. Some authors do this consistently, others only for disambiguation; in this case, egg-beater, egg beater, and eggbeater are all common.
An example of an ambiguous phrase appears in they stood near a group of alien lovers, which without a hyphen implies that they stood near a group of lovers who were aliens; they stood near a group of alien-lovers clarifies that they stood near a group of people who loved aliens, as "alien" can be either an adjective or a noun. On the other hand, in the phrase a hungry pizza-lover, the hyphen will often be omitted (a hungry pizza lover), as "pizza" cannot be an adjective and the phrase is therefore unambiguous.
Similarly, there's a man-eating shark in these waters is nearly the opposite of there's a man eating shark at table 6; the first is a shark, and the second a man. A government-monitoring program is a program that monitors the government, whereas a government monitoring program is a government program that monitors something else.
Connecting hyphens are used in a large number of miscellaneous compounds, other than modifiers, such as in lily-of-the-valley, cock-a-hoop, clever-clever, tittle-tattle and orang-utan. Usage is often dictated by convention rather than fixed rules, and hyphenation styles may vary between authors; for example, orang-utan is also written as orangutan or orang utan, and lily-of-the-valley may or may not be hyphenated.
Some married couples compose a new surname (sometimes referred to as a double-barrelled name) for their new family by combining their two surnames with a hyphen. Jane Doe and John Smith might become Jane and John Smith-Doe, or Doe-Smith, for instance. In some countries only the woman hyphenates her birth surname, appending her husband's surname.
A suspended hyphen (also called a "suspensive hyphen" or "hanging hyphen", or less commonly a "dangling" or "floating" hyphen) may be used when a single base word is used with separate, consecutive, hyphenated words which are connected by "and", "or", or "to". For example, nineteenth-century and twentieth-century may be written as nineteenth- and twentieth-century. This usage is now common in English and specifically recommended in some style guides. Although less common, suspended hyphens are also used in English when the base word comes first, such as in "investor-owned and -operated". Usages such as "applied and sociolinguistics" (instead of "applied linguistics and sociolinguistics") are frowned on in English; the Indiana University Style Guide uses this example and says "Do not 'take a shortcut' when the first expression is ordinarily open." (i.e., ordinarily two separate words). This is different, however, from instances where prefixes that are normally closed up (styled solidly) are used suspensively. For example, preoperative and postoperative becomes pre- and postoperative (not pre- and post-operative) in AMA or APA style when suspended.
A hyphen may be used to connect groups of numbers, such as in dates (see below), telephone numbers or sports scores, but it is more proper to use an en-dash to indicate a range of value.
The hyphen is sometimes used to hide letters in words (censoring), as in G-d, although an en-dash can be used as well for stylistic purposes (“G–d”).
Some strong examples of semantic changes caused by the placement of hyphens:
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The first use of the hyphen—and its origination—is often credited to Johannes Gutenberg of Mainz, Germany circa 1455 with the publication of his 42-line Bible. Examination of an original copy on vellum (Hubay index #35) in the U. S. Library of Congress shows that Gutenberg's movable type was set justified in a uniform style, 42 equal lines per page.
The Gutenberg printing press required words made up of individual letters of type to be held in place by a surrounding non-printing rigid frame. Gutenberg solved the problem of making each line the same length to fit the frame by inserting a hyphen as the last element at the right side margin. This interrupted the letters in the last word, requiring the remaining letters be carried over to the start of the line below. His hyphen appears throughout the Bible as a short, double line inclined to the right at a 60-degree angle.
In medieval times and the early days of printing, the predecessor of the comma was a slash. As the hyphen ought not to be confused with this, a double-slash was used, this resembling an equals sign tilted like a slash. Writing forms changed with time, and included the full development of the comma, so the hyphen could become one horizontal stroke.
Those dictionaries based on the second edition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary used one small, slightly tilted slash for a hyphen which they added at the end of a line where they broke the word, but used a double-slash, much like the very old symbol, to indicate a hyphen that was actually a part of the phrase but just happened to fall at the end of the line. This double-slash would be used in hyphenated phrases in the middle of the text as well, so that there would be no confusion.
In the ASCII character encoding, the hyphen is encoded as character 45. This character is actually called the hyphen-minus, and it is also used as the minus sign and for dashes. In Unicode, the hyphen-minus is encoded as U+002D (-) so that Unicode remains compatible with ASCII. However, Unicode also encodes the hyphen and minus separately, as U+2010 (‐) and U+2212 (−) respectively, along with the em dash U+2014 (—), en dash U+2013 (–) and other related characters. The hyphen-minus is a general-purpose character which attempts to fulfill several roles, and wherever optimal typography is desired, the preferred hyphen, minus, or other symbol should be used instead. For example, compare 4+3−2=5 (minus) and 4+3-2=5 (hyphen-minus); in most fonts the hyphen-minus will not have the optimal width, thickness, or vertical position, whereas the minus character will.
However, the Unicode hyphen is awkward to enter on most keyboards, so the hyphen-minus character remains very common. They are often used instead of dashes or minus signs in situations where the preferred characters are unavailable (such as ASCII-only text), where the preferred characters take effort to enter (via dialog boxes or multi-key, unmemorable keyboard shortcuts), or when the writer is unaware of the distinction. Some writers use two hyphen-minuses (--) to represent a dash in ASCII text.
The ASCII hyphen-minus character is also often used when specifying command-line options. The character is usually followed by one or more letters that indicate specific actions. Typically it is called a dash or switch in this context. Various implementations of the getopt() function to parse command-line options additionally allow the use of two hyphen-minus characters ( -- ) to specify long option names that are more descriptive than their single-letter equivalents. Another use of hyphens is that employed by programs written with pipelining in mind— a single hyphen may be recognized in lieu of a filename, with the hyphen then serving as an indicator that a standard stream, instead of a file, is to be worked with.
Although software (hyphenation algorithms) can often automatically make decisions on when to hyphenate a word at a line break, it is also sometimes useful for the user to be able to insert cues for those decisions (which are dynamic in the online medium, given that text can be reflowed). For this purpose, the concept of a soft hyphen (discretionary hyphen, optional hyphen) was introduced, allowing such manual specification of a place where a hyphenated break is allowed, but without forcing a line break in an inconvenient place when the text is later reflowed.
In contrast, a hyphen that is always displayed and printed is called a hard hyphen (although some use this term to refer to a non-breaking hyphen; see below). Soft hyphens are inserted into the text at the positions where hyphenation may occur. It can be a tedious task to insert the soft hyphens by hand, and tools using hyphenation algorithms are available that do this automatically. The upcoming Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) version 3 will provide language-specific hyphenation dictionaries.
The word segmentation rules of most text systems consider a hyphen to be a word boundary and a valid point at which to break a line when flowing text. However, this is not always desirable behavior, especially when it could lead to ambiguity (such as in the examples given before, where recreation and re‑creation would be indistinguishable), or in languages other than English (e.g. a line break at the hyphen in Irish an t‑athair or Romanian s‑a would be undesirable). For this purpose, Unicode also encodes a nonbreaking hyphen (non-breaking hyphen, no-break hyphen) as U+2011 (‑, coded for by ‑). This character looks identical to the regular hyphen, but it is treated as a letter by word processors, namely that the hyphenated word will not be divided at the hyphen should this fall at what would be the end of a line of text; instead, the whole hyphenated word either will remain in full at the end of the line or will go in full to the beginning of the next line. The non-breaking space exists for similar reasons.
In parts of Europe, the hyphen is used to delineate parts within a written date. Germans and Slavs also used Roman numerals for the month; 14‑VII‑1789, for example, is one way of writing the first Bastille Day, though this usage is rapidly falling out of favour. Plaques on the wall of the Moscow Kremlin are written this way. Use of hyphens, as opposed to the slashes used in the English language, is specified for international standards.
International standard ISO 8601, which was accepted as European Standard EN 28601 and incorporated into various typographic style guides (e.g., DIN 5008 in Germany), brought about a new standard using the hyphen. Now all official European governmental documents use this. These norms prescribe writing dates using hyphens: 1789-07-14 is the new way of writing the first Bastille Day. This is also the typical date format used in large parts of Eastern Europe and Asia, although sometimes with other separators than the hyphen.
This method has gained influence within North America, as most common computer filesystems make the use of slashes difficult or impossible. DOS, OS/2 and Windows simultaneously support both \ and / as directory separators, but / is also used to introduce and separate switches to shell commands (unless reconfigured to use the hyphen-minus in DOS). Unix-like systems use / as a directory separator and, while \ is legal in filenames, it is awkward to use as the shell uses it as an escape character. Unix also uses a space followed by a hyphen to introduce switches. Apart from the separator used the non-year form of the date format is also identical to the standard American representation.
The ISO date format sorts correctly using a default collation, which can be useful in many computing situations including for filenames, so many computer systems and IT technicians have switched to this method. The government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, for example, has switched to this method.
Apart from dash and minus sign, Unicode has multiple hyphen characters:
-) (still not to be confused with U+2212 − minus sign)
And in non-Latin scripts:
|Look up hyphen in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|