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Linguapress English Grammar

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Tricky points of English ...
Explaining the everyday words and English grammar points that can cause most confusion

Hyphens in English

When are hyphens needed ?

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate?  That is the question.

"Do I need a hyphen (that is a small dash - ) in the middle of this word? "
It's the sort of question that learners often ask. But be reassured; native English speakers often ask the same question. And no wonder !
Is a stand, or a small kiosk, where newspapers are sold known as :
a news stand
a newsstand, or
a news-stand ?
Good question !  The problem is that in this example there is no real answer !
So the only answer for a word like News-stand / newsstand / news stand has to be: the choice is yours!
If only all English grammar rules were so flexible !! Unfortunately they are not.

Nevertheless, there are some "rules", or more exactly "principles" or "guidelines" that can help us know when to join words, when to use a hyphen, or when to keep words separate.

Some principles to follow

1. Avoid ambiguity

A building made mostly of glass, and used by gardeners to keep plants warm, is  known as a greenhouse  or sometimes a green-house, but never a green house By joining the words together or using a hyphen, we avoid confusion or ambiguity. A. green house is something quite different; it is a house painted green.

   Here are some pairs of words and expressions, where the addition of a hyphen serves to avoid ambiguity :

   This principle is particularly useful with attributive compound adjectives

2. Hyphenate some compound adjectives

Compound adjectives (adjectives where two or more words  have a single combined meaning), are usually hyphenated when used attributively (i.e. before a noun). Here are some more examples
However there is no hyphen in adjective phrases starting with an adverb in -ly. When used predicatively (usually after the verb to be), compound adjectives are not usually hyphenated

3. Hyphens in numbers

Hyphens are generally used in numbers between 21 and 99 (except for numbers ending in 0)

4. Nouns or adjectives formed from phrasal or prepositional verbs

While we do not use hyphens in phrasal or prepositional verbs, the words are normally either joined together or hyphenated when used as a noun.

5. Compound nouns

We are back to the question of news stand, news-stand or newsstand ?
Basically there is no rule here. In most cases, the writer has a choice; but not always. Some compound nouns are (almost) always written with a hyphen, others as two separate words, and others still as a single word.
  One would (almost) always write lifestyle or typewriter or timetable or tablecloth as one word, but baby-boomer and car-ferry with a hyphen, and corner shop  or music festival each as two words.
   For most words, there is a degree of choice; but some words just have to be learned !

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A selection of  grammar pages
Verbs: the present tense
Verbs : the future
Past tenses
Phrasal & prepositional verbs
Gerunds, participles and -ing forms
The imperative
Irregular verb tables
Nouns, pronouns, adjectives
Nouns in English
Noun phrases
Personal pronouns
Adjective order in English
The possessive
Sentences & clauses
Relative clauses in English
Conditional clauses in English
Word order in English
Reported questions in English
A glossary of grammar terms 
Rules of punctuation 
Language and style 
Word stress in English
The short story of English
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