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).

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


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’.