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Hyphens versus dashes

Hyphens are used to join two words together or to differentiate between similarly spelled words. This video helps learners differentiate between hyphens and dashes, provides concrete examples to support learners’ correct use of hyphens, and discusses how words gain and lose hyphens over time.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Kenny Kumar
    When you're using the word "straight to the point" in a sentence, do you use hyphens?

    E.g "Marcus is down-to-earth, and straight to the point."

    Do you add hyphens only if the phrase is used as an adjective?
    (13 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Polina Vitić
      That's right - you only use hyphens when the phrase is used as an adjective.

      For example:

      Marcus is a down-to-earth guy. He likes to get straight to the point.
      - down-to-earth = adjective
      - straight to the point = not an adjective

      Marcus has a straight-to-the-point quality to his speech. He did not hesitate to tell us that he had just seen a UFO float down to Earth.
      - straight-to-the-point = adjective
      - down to Earth = not an adjective

      Hope this helps!
      (17 votes)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user Iron Programming
    I have an interesting question. In English, we can use adjective clauses/phrases like "the grey and blue frogs", where "grey and blue" is an adjective clause describing the noun "frogs".

    When using hyphenated words, I would like to avoid using two hyphenated words with the second word being the same.
    For example, instead of "Single-Replacement and Double-Replacement reactions" I would like to say "Single and Double-Replacement reactions".

    Is the latter example allowed in grammar? My writing style is constantly changing, and when writing down my notes on Chemistry I noticed how my writing style was slightly abnormal, and I wondered if anyone else was in the same boat as me. In a way, forming my own idiolect is not necessarily a bad thing, but I wondered if any grammarians out there had seen this situation discussed before.
    (11 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user dron008
      I found this:

      In a series of related compound adjectives (e.g. first-class, second-class, third-class), we generally drop the second component in all but the last instance. But although the rule is rarely followed, the hyphen (called a trailing hyphen) should appear in all instances.

      British universities award first-, second- and third-class degrees on their three- and four-year courses.
      (2 votes)
  • starky tree style avatar for user Kaden Mellick
    "And I was just a wee lil babeh." - David 2016
    (7 votes)
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  • winston default style avatar for user Robert Artemiev
    When you type in a computer, do you need something like --?
    (6 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user Trinity Coetzee
    so can you think of a hyphen as a comma ?,or would that be wrong .
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      Hyphens can't really be thought of as commas. Hyphens join words together, while commas set off words and separate parts of sentences. I'm not sure of any sentence where you can replace a hyphen with a comma and still have the sentence keep its meaning.
      Dashes, on the other hand, act a lot more like commas do. They're usually used to stand in for punctuations like commas or colons when you need something more pointed or emphatic. When setting off phrases from the rest of the sentence, dashes grammatically do the same thing as commas, as in:
      "After chasing all the rats out of his attic--all 18 of them--Usnavi decided to take a well-needed break."
      However, because they're different punctuation marks, they do have slightly different meanings: the dash sets the element further apart from the sentence, which is great if you're adding a little side detail that you want people to notice, for example.
      (7 votes)
  • blobby blue style avatar for user Shark-Lady
    Is "Hyphenify" a real word?-or is it something David just made up on the spot?
    (5 votes)
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  • winston default style avatar for user Kakarot
    Isn't co-op video game stuff.
    (4 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user yu.ming
    How can you tell the difference between a hyphen and a dash if they are both used in a sentence?
    (4 votes)
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user tee-jay ade__Army_Stay
    is yellowish-green correct?
    (5 votes)
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  • starky tree style avatar for user southside joji
    Is this correct? To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee
    (2 votes)
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    • female robot amelia style avatar for user Johanna
      We usually use hyphens to attribute a quote (not a title) to its author or speaker. These options are more appropriate examples of using a hyphen.:

      "Remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." -Scout Finch
      "Remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." -Harper Lee
      (6 votes)

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hello grammarians, hello Paige. - [Voiceover] Hi, David. - [Voiceover] So, today we're gonna learn about hyphens. And what a hyphen is, it's a little stick, like this, as opposed to a dash, which is about twice as long. And people confuse them a lot, but they have very different functions. So what a hyphen is used to do is it's used to join two words into one. - [Voiceover] All right. - [Voiceover] So, for example, we have the word yellow. That's a word with meaning. We have the word green. That's a word with meaning. - [Voiceover] Yes. - [Voiceover] And we may have a word that does fit right in between those two or two at once, like chartreuse or whatever. - [Voiceover] Okay. - [Voiceover] You know, but not everybody wants to use the word chartreuse. - [Voiceover] No, it's kinda crazy. - [Voiceover] Kind of a wacky word. So, instead of doing that, you might just wanna say yellow-green, and connect yellow and green with a hyphen. So yeah, so a hyphen is joining these two things. But let's say we had a sentence like, "Her hair was yellow -- green were her eyes." You know, and so we're still separating the words yellow and green with a stick, but a dash is longer, and instead of uniting yellow-green, it's separating them the way that you know, a semicolon might. - [Voiceover] Yeah, it's not one thing, it's she has yellow hair and green eyes. - [Voiceover] If she had yellow-green hair, that would be a different story. - [Voiceover] Yes. - [Voiceover] So what's neat about hyphens and what's kinda confusing about hyphens is that whether or not we use a hyphen indicates how common a compound phrase is. So, Brian Gardner in Gardner's Modern American Usage, and in the Chicago Manual of Style draws this distinction with compound words. And I should first say what a compound word is, right? A compound word is two words smacked together somehow, right? So, if we take the... so once upon a time, at the dawn of the Internet page, - [Voiceover] Okay. - [Voiceover] when dinosaurs walked the Earth, and I was just a wee little baby, - [Voiceover] Yes. - [Voiceover] you would refer to getting on line, right. And then, as it became more and more prominent, and more and more popular, this is what's called an open compound, then it became on-line, separated with a hyphen. This is what's called a hyphenated compound. - [Voiceover] Makes sense. - [Voiceover] And now, when we think about it, it's just an adjective, and it's online, and this is a closed compound. - [Voiceover] Right, okay. It became closed, cause everyone knows what that means. - [Voiceover] Right, so you would use hyphenated compounds when you're kind of in this intermediary stage of acceptedness. - [Voiceover] So like, maybe one day, in the future, yellow-green will be a super common color. Right, it's everyone's favorite color, so it'll just be smushed together with no hyphen. - [Voiceover] Today is not that day. - [Voiceover] Today is not that day, so there's a hyphen there. - [Voiceover] Right, I think it's also important to hyphenate for clarity. Let me explain what I mean by that. - [Voiceover] Yeah. - [Voiceover] So, first of all, when I say hyphenate, that's just a word that means to put a hyphen in something. - [Voiceover] Yes. - [voiceover] To hyphenify. So if a compound word could be misconstrued or misunderstood, you just throw in a hyphen or check a dictionary or a style guide. So, okay, so, Paige. - [Voiceover] Yes. - [Voiceover] I would like to raise some chickens. - [Voiceover] Good idea. - [Voiceover] So, in order to raise some chickens, I need a chicken coop, right. - [Voiceover] That is, yeah, true. - [Voiceover] And a coop, right, C-O-O-P, is a place where chickens live. It's like a little enclosure. - [Voiceover] Yeah. - [Voiceover] But let's say I wanna buy this coop from a community-run business, right, what's called a cooperative business, or a co-op. Well, now sometimes it appears like that. Like that, like C-O-O-P, but if I said something like, "I wanna by my coop from the co-op," like that, it'll end up looking like this. - [Voiceover] I wanna buy my coop from the coop. - [Voiceover] Right. - [Voiceover] Or my co-op from the co-op, or co-op from the coop, or something. - [Voiceover] So, in order to be clear, it really helps to put in that little hyphen. And that's the difference, right. So you're using this to say, oh, you know, this is actually short for cooperative, you know, cause it's operated by a bunch of people working together, as opposed to this word, which is just C-O-O-P. - [Voiceover] Right. - [voiceover] So you wanna hyphenate for clarity when you can. - [Voiceover] Makes sense. - [Voiceover] So let's bring all this together, right. So I made a yellow-green coop with the co-op. - [Voiceover] Okay, you all worked together to make a yellow-green coop. That's pretty cool. - [Voiceover] So we're connecting yellow and green with a hyphen. We're connecting co-op with a hyphen to differentiate it from this word coop. And that's basically what you use hyphens for. You can learn anything, David out. - [Voiceover] Paige out.