Hyphen- HyWHEN?

Contributor: Jennifer Blanchard. Lesson ID: 13452

The word hyphen sounds complicated, but really, it's just referring to a dash. Just like this: - ! How and when should you use it, though? Come see what this lesson has to say about that!



English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Take a look at this hyphen joke.

hyphen joke

  • Just from looking at the picture, what do you think hyphens do?
  • What is this illustration trying to tell us about hyphens?

Write your ideas down in your notebook or on paper.

Then, keep reading to see if you were right!

A hyphen, which looks like a short line, is an all-important punctuation mark used for certain grammar reasons.

  • Did you see that short dash in all-important?

That's the hyphen we are talking about!

Knowing what a hyphen is and how and when to use it is important because it will help you better understand when reading. It will also make your writing easier to understand.

Let's get into the nitty-gritty of hyphen usage!

There are a few specific details on when to use a hyphen; however, its basic purpose is what made the opening joke so funny.

A hyphen breaks apart words while bringing them together.

  When to Use a Hyphen Examples
  to join two (or more) words acting as one adjective BEFORE a noun
  • one-way street
  • chocolate-covered peanuts
  • well-known author
  compound numbers or fractions
  • forty-six
  • sixty-three
  • five and one-half feet

with the prefixes ex-, self-, and all-

between a prefix and a capitalized word

  • ex-husband
  • self-assured
  • all-inclusive
  • mid-September
  with the suffix -elect
  • self-elect
  • President-elect
  with figures or letters
  • T-shirt
  • Pre-Civil War
  • mid-1980s

to divide words at the end of a line (if necessary)

If this happens, you should only break the word and place the hyphen where the syllable break is or where a hyphen would already go.

  • pref-
  • sell-
  • mass-
  • self-

two words brought together as a compound

These words CAN have a hyphen but may also just be combined into one word.

You may also add a hyphen to a word you make up for humor, vivid writing, or to avoid confusion.

  • hair-stylist or hairstylist
  • The slacker video-gamed his way through life.
  • Springfield has little-town charm.
  the ages of people and things
  • two-year-old child
  • four-year project
  to show distance between time and numbers
  • from 4-6 PM
  • 200-300 people
  double last names
  • Ms. Heinz-Eakins
  • John Smith-Doe


If you would like to explore more examples or see rarer instances of hyphen usage, check out Hyphens.

  • Ready to learn something that few people realize?

A hyphen is NOT the same thing as a dash!

A dash looks like a hyphen but is a little longer. We won't get into dashes right now, but they are used in place of other punctuation — such as commas, parentheses, semicolons, colons, and ellipses — to add emphasis.

  • Spot the dashes?

Now, keep going with hyphens in the Got It? section!

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