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© The Economist Newspaper Limited 2004
Use hyphens for:
1. FRACTIONS (whether nouns or adjectives): two-thirds, four-fifths, one-sixth, etc.
2. MOST WORDS THAT BEGIN with anti, non and neo. Thus anti-aircraft, anti-fascist, anti-submarine (but antibiotic, anticlimax, antidote, antiseptic, antitrust); non-combatant, non-existent, non-payment, non-violent (but nonaligned, nonconformist, nonplussed, nonstop); neo-conservative, neo-liberal (but neoclassicism, neolithic, neologism).
Words beginning Euro should also be hyphenated, except Europhile, Europhobe and Eurosceptic; euro zone and euro area.
Some words that become unmanageably long with the addition of a prefix. Thus under-secretary and inter-governmental. Antidisestablishmentarianism would, however, lose its point if it were hyphenated.
A sum followed by the word worth also needs a hyphen. Thus $25m-worth of goods.
3. SOME TITLES
vice-president, director-general, under-secretary, secretary-general, attorney-general, lieutenant-colonel, major-general, field-marshal
general secretary, deputy secretary, deputy director, district attorney
4. TO AVOID AMBIGUITIES
a little-used car
a little used-car
fine-tooth comb (most people do not comb their teeth)
third world war
DC-10, Mirage F-1E, MiG-23, Lockheed P-3 Orion
(If in doubt, consult Jane's "All the World's Aircraft".)
6. ADJECTIVES FORMED FROM TWO OR MORE WORDS
right-wing groups (but the right wing of the party), balance-of-payments difficulties, private-sector wages, public-sector borrowing requirement, a 70-year-old judge, state-of-the-union message, value-added tax (VAT).
Adverbs do not need to be linked to participles or adjectives by hyphens in simple constructions: The regiment was ill equipped for its task; The principle is well established; Though expensively educated, the journalist knew no grammar. But if the adverb is one of two words together being used adjectivally, a hyphen may be needed: The ill-equipped regiment was soon repulsed; All well-established principles should be periodically challenged. The hyphen is especially likely to be needed if the adverb is short and common, such as ill, little, much and well. Less-common adverbs, including all those that end -ly, are less likely to need hyphens: Never employ an expensively educated journalist.
Do not overdo the literary device of hyphenating words that are not usually linked: the stringing-together-of-lots-and-lots-of-words-and-ideas tendency can be tiresome.
7. SEPARATING IDENTICAL LETTERS:
book-keeping (but bookseller), coat-tails, co-operate, unco-operative, pre-eminent, pre-empt (but predate, precondition), re-emerge, re-entry (but rearm, rearrange, reborn, repurchase), trans-ship. Exceptions include override, overrule, underrate, withhold.
8. NOUNS FORMED FROM PREPOSITIONAL VERBS:
bail-out, build-up, call-up, get-together, lay-off, pay-off, round-up, set-up, shake-up, etc.
9. THE QUARTERS OF THE COMPASS:
north-east(ern), south-east(ern), south-west(ern), north-west(ern), the mid-west(ern).
10. HYBRID ETHNICS:
Greek-Cypriot, Irish-American, etc, whether noun or adjective.
Words gathered together in quotation marks to serve as adjectives do not usually need hyphens as well: the "Live Free or Die" state.
A general rule for makers: if the prefix is of one or two syllables, attach it without a hyphen to form a single word, but if the prefix is of three or more syllables, introduce a hyphen. So carmaker, chipmaker, peacemaker, marketmaker, troublemaker, but candlestick-maker, holiday-maker, tiramisu-maker, antimacassar-maker. Policymaker (one word) is an exception.
With other words ending -er that are similar to maker (builder, dealer, driver, grower, owner, player, runner, seeker, traf***er, worker, etc) the general rule should be to insert a hyphen. But some prefixes, especially those of one syllable, can be used to form single words (coalminer, foxhunter, householder, landowner, metalworker, muckraker, nitpicker, shipbroker, steeplechaser), and some combinations will be better left as two words (insurance broker, crossword compiler, tuba player).
forever (adv, when it precedes the verb)
policymakers(-ing), but foreign-policy makers (-ing)
ad hoc (always)
child care (noun)
common sense (noun)
for ever (when used after a verb)
health care (noun)
TWO HYPHENATED WORDS:
mid-week, mid-August, etc
pull-out (noun, not verb)
re-create (meaning create again)
re-present (meaning present again)
re-sort (meaning sort again)
ad hoc agreement (meeting, etc)
armoured personnel carrier
chiefs of staff
half a dozen
in as much
in so far
multiple rocket launcher
nuclear power station
third world war (if things get bad)
THREE HYPHENATED WORDS:
Avoid from 1947-50 (say in 1947-50 or from 1947 to 1950) and between 1961-65 (say in 1961-65, between 1961 and 1965 or from 1961 to 1965).
“If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad” (Oxford University Press style manual).
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Keep in mind that this article reflects British usage. Americans use less hyphens than the British, and in particular have a penchant for creating compound words. The following are all correct in American English:
"Right- or left-handed scissors" or
"Right or left-handed scissors"?