Definition of hyphen in English:



  • The sign -, used to join words to indicate that they have a combined meaning or that they are linked in the grammar of a sentence (as in a pick-me-up, rock-forming minerals), to indicate the division of a word at the end of a line, or to indicate a missing element (as in short- and long-term).

    • ‘He was coal and wool joined by a stately hyphen and ennobled by five coronets.’
    • ‘Outside the University in Mumbai is the greeting ‘wel-come’, with the two elements separated by a hyphen.’
    • ‘Google ignores most punctuation, except apostrophes, hyphens and quote marks.’
    • ‘Imagine, Kierkegaard says, that you saw nothing but a word followed by a hyphen.’
    • ‘Should your domain be one single word or should the words be separated by hyphens?’
    • ‘Yes, Ashling is one of those people who eschew normal grammar rules and use only hyphens to get their message across.’
    • ‘Differences in amino acid sequence are shown; hyphens identify missing amino acids, and dots indicate identical amino acids’
    • ‘According to Jacoby, the hyphen in service-learning is symbolically representative of this symbiotic relationship.’
    • ‘Counting only letters, and ignoring characters like spaces and commas and hyphens, you can see the proof in the definition.’
    • ‘The only quibble I have with the grammar of that prose is the use of a hyphen followed by a semi-colon in the final sentence.’
    • ‘Small deletions are indicated by hyphens and large deletions by triangles.’
    • ‘Two or more one-syllable words may be joined together, however, usually connected by a hyphen, to form a compound word.’
    • ‘Periods and hyphens indicate, respectively, base identities and deletions.’
    • ‘As you get to the later levels, the words and phrases become much trickier, complete with hyphens and other special characters.’
    • ‘As the hyphens and slash marks indicate, these emergent literatures do not fit under a single rubric.’
    • ‘They've registered the name with a hyphen between the words but I own the domain as one word which is their preference.’
    • ‘It would be nice to think this tip-off enabled him to avoid this fate but I fear his life was lost along with those missing hyphens.’
    • ‘Search engines see hyphens and commas as spaces, which is why they would count that example as the same word next to itself.’
    • ‘For those who care: in one of last week's postings, I had linked loads and loads of words together with hyphens instead of spaces.’
    • ‘For example, if you like the looks of hyphens separating datestamp, locators and descriptors, then do it that way every time.’


In modern English the use of hyphens is in general decreasing, especially in compound nouns: website is preferred to web-site, and air raid to air-raid. Hyphens are still often employed where a compound expression precedes a noun, as in first-rate musicians or twenty-odd people (twenty odd people means something quite different!), but even in this context there is a growing trend to omit them. When a phrasal verb such as build up is made into a noun it is usually hyphenated (a build-up of pressure). Note, however, that a normal phrasal verb should not be hyphenated: write food to take away not food to take-away, and continue to build up your pension not continue to build-up your pension


Early 17th century: via late Latin from Greek huphen ‘together’, from hupo ‘under’ + hen ‘one’.