A hyphen is a small horizontal line, such as given in these brackets (-), which is used between parts of a compound name or word, or between syllables of words at the end of a sentence or line. Hyphens serve to remove confusion from sentences, and to combine multiple words to form a single meaning. For instance, in the sentence, “Lord Emsworth belonged to the people-like-to-be-left-alone-to-amuse-themselves-when-they-come-to-a-place school of hosts.” (Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse) The use of hyphens has combined all of these words into a single word for these sorts of people.

Characteristics of Hyphen

  • If a compound adjective comes before the noun, they are hyphenated – such as,
    “A blue-colored shirt”
  • If a compound adjective comes after the noun, there is no hyphen – such as,
    “My shirt is blue colored.”
  • The hyphen is omitted with such compound adjectives as “the sales tax reform resolution,” as well as adjectives preceded by adverbs that end in “-ly” – such as,
    “An oddly presented speech”

Common Use of Hyphen

  • I am searching for a cat-friendly
  • A well-known singer is performing.
  • The shopkeeper erected a 10-foot-high
  • She bought it during a blue-light

Examples of Hyphens in Literature

Example #1: Taylor’s Weekend Gardening Guide to Garden Paths (by Gordon Hayward)

“Along the front of the wall she created a ten-foot-wide sloping garden, which met the final twenty feet of lawn that ran out to the sidewalk.”

In this example, the author has employed a compound word with three words, “ten-foot-wide,” using hyphens to join them.

Example #2: The chronicles of Narnia (by C.S. Lewis)

“This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids … He himself was a very old man with shaggy white hair which grew over most of his face as well as on his head, and they liked him almost at once; but on the first evening when he came out to meet them at the front door he was so odd-looking that Lucy (who was the youngest) was a little afraid of him … “

There are two hyphens in this excerpt. The first one is “air-raid,” and the second one is “odd-looking.” Hyphens join these words to remove ambiguity in their use.

Example #3: Ode to nightingale (by John Keats)

“One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness, —
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth…
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And leaden-eyed despairs …”

Keats has skillfully made use of hyphens in this poem, to form compound words.

Example #4: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (by J.K. Rowling)

“All Harry’s spellbooks, his wand, robes, cauldron, and top-of-the-line Nimbus Two Thousand broomstick had been locked in a cupboard under the stairs by Uncle Vernon the instant Harry had come home… Aunt Petunia was horse-faced and bony; Dudley was blond, pink, and porky. Harry, on the other hand, was small and skinny, with brilliant green eyes and jet-black hair that was always untidy. He wore round glasses, and on his forehead was a thin, lightning-shaped scar.”

In this passage, the hyphenated words include “top-of-the-line,” “horse-faced,” and “lightening-shaped,” each serving as a compound adjective.

Example #5: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (by S.T. Coleridge)

“The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.

And now there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.”

Here, the poet has used hyphens three times, between the compound words “wedding-Guest,” “bright-eyed,” and “mast-high.”

Function of Hyphen

The main function of hyphens is to separate words into parts, or to combine separate words into a single word to clarify meanings. Hyphens serve to remove ambiguities from sentences. Despite its decreased use, the hyphen remains a norm in compound-modifier structures with some prefixes. Moreover, hyphenation is usually used in justified texts to avoid unnecessary spacing such as in newspaper columns.