Hyphenation 101: Primary Uses of Hyphens in Spelling

I’m reading my way through Anne Stilman’s Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, and Grammar (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997). Call me strange, but as a writer and editor, I eat this stuff up. This book inspires my next series of posts.

Today we’ll begin with the subject of hyphenation.

Hyphens are punctuation marks. But they’re also components of spelling.

Spelling a word correctly involves more than including the right letters in the right order. Some words require hyphens, such as multi-item. Others are misspelled (or misunderstood) if they’re hyphenated but shouldn’t be, such as under-way or a-priori.

As a function of spelling, Stilman lists the following as functions of the hyphen:

  • To link words that make up a compound word (such as two-way or water-resistant)
  • To attach a prefix or suffix to the main word (anti-inflammatory)
  • To connect words that make up a number (twenty-three)

Believe it or not, for such a small character, there’s a lot to say about hyphens. The previous list lays our plans for the next few posts about using hyphens in spelling. Then we’ll conclude with one or more editions about their use as punctuation marks.

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