A hyphen is one-half the size of an en dash (–) and one-third the size of an em dash(—). Hyphens are used to provide clarity and have three main uses.

    1.  Hyphens are used primarily to make compound words, especially phrasal adjectives preceding the nouns they modify—for example:

    Thou fair-haired angel of the evening … [William Blake]

    Talking in a sing-song drone … [Entertainment Weekly]

    … a starch-filled potluck of goodness. [Two Vegan Boys]

    An adjective phrase beginning with an -ly adverb needs no hyphen—for example:

    … that I had realized the goal of her poorly conceived plan. [Wayward Irregular]


    So the hyphen here is unnecessary:

    Such advertisements are categorized by sparsely-dressed women … [Daily Campus]

    2.  Hyphens help distinguish between homographs with vastly different meanings—for example, co-op and coop, re-create and recreate, mid-section and midsection. In normal circumstances, the prefixes co-re-, and mid- are attached to words without a hyphen, but the hyphen brings clarity in cases such as these.

    3.  Hyphens are occasionally used in compound nouns, although this practice varies, and specific conventions govern each case. Invented compound nouns are usually good candidates for hyphenation; poets often do this with whimsical coinages—for instance:

    And the flags where the butter-bump hides in for ever … [John Clare]


    1. Looking for usage on the prefix “pre.” Specifically, should the word be preorder, pre-order or stylized for the web, PreOrder? I’m going with pre-order for now but would like a definitive determination. Thanks!

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