Is the glass half full or half-empty?

Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Episode #93

In-Word Hyphenation

Meaning also matters when you are trying to decide whether to use a hyphen within a word. For example, if you didn't press your jeans properly and you need to re-press them, you would write that with a hyphen: I need to re-press my jeans. Otherwise, people might think you mean the verb repress meaning "to stifle or put down." You re-press jeans, but repress bad memories.

  • You need to re-press your jeans.

  • You need to repress those bad memories.

A dictionary is also helpful for figuring out less obvious cases of in-word hyphenation. Fortunately, there are at least a few solid rules. You use a hyphen when when you're joining a prefix to a word that must be capitalized and when joining a letter to a word. For example, you use a hyphen in

  • Anti-American

  • Un-American

  • Pre-Mesozoic

  • X-ray

  • A-list

  • T-shirt

Also, you use hyphens to write out numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine. For example

  • Thirty-five

  • Sixty-four

  • Ninety-three

Hyphens are a complicated topic and I promise I'll do another show about other hyphen questions in the future.

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half. Oxford English Dictionary. Second edition. Oxford University Press, http://tinyurl.com/29dol6 (accessed January 31, 2008).
Garner, B.A. "Grammar and Usage." The Chicago Manual of Style, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006, section 5.92. http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org (accessed January 31, 2008).
Lutz, G. and Stevenson, D. Grammar Desk Reference. Cincinnati:Writer's Digest Books, 2004, p. 276.
Quinion, M. "Hyphen." World Wide Words. http://www.worldwidewords.org/topicalwords/tw-hyp1.htm (accessed January 31, 2008).
Shaw, H. Punctuate It Right. New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1993, p. 89-95.

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Hyphen image, kzys at Flickr. CC BY 2.0


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.