When to use a hyphen in compound nouns?

When to use a hyphen in compound nouns?

Today we will be looking at compound nouns. Some of you wanted to know why sometimes certain types of nouns are separated by a hyphen. First, let me just briefly repeat what the hyphen is.

  • A hyphen shows that two words belong together.

  • Unfortunately, the rules about when to use a hyphen are not very exact, but hyphens are generally more used in British English than in American English.

When to use a hyphen in compound nouns?

So, a hyphen can be used in some compound nouns. But most combinations are written either as one word or as two separate words.

a lifeboat

film star


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General rules

  • We generally use a hyphen in a letter + noun combination, like in words such as an X-ray, an e-mail.

  • Hyphens are most common in:

compound nouns where the second part ends in -er

taxi-driver          bottle-opener

compound nouns where the first part ends in -ing

waiting-room   writing-paper  

compound nouns made with prepositions and adverb particles

brother-in-law                 make-up

  • Also, nouns beginning with the prefixes anti-, co-, ex-, mid-, non-, pre-, post-, pro-, and self- are often written with a hyphen.











Here are some tips for you on when to use a hyphen:

  • Use a hyphen only in words where you have seen it used before or in contexts where you know it is necessary (for example in a letter + noun combination).

  •  Use it in a phrase before a noun, such as in a five-meter-high sculpture.

  • Do not use it in commonly-used noun compounds like an airport or a mobile phone.

  •  Unfortunately, the situation at present is rather confused, so don't be worried if you find the same expression spelt in three different ways (e.g. candyshop, candy-shop, candy shop).

  •  If you are not sure whether to use a hyphen or not, the best thing to do is to look it up in a dictionary, or just write the words without a hyphen.

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