Ahh, the hyphen. The self-proclaimed grammar geeks here at Hammock have had many a debate about when to use it and when to avoid it. As with every rule regarding the English language, there are exceptions. But here are a few instances when using a hyphen is necessary and even makes sense:

1. A hyphen is used to make compound words:

  • Obama-McCain debate
  • Singer-songwriter
  • Mother-in-law

2. A hyphen is used in fractions:

  • Two-thirds
  • Four-fifths
  • Three thirty-seconds

3. A hyphen is used to make new words with prefixes like mid, self, ex, great, etc.

  • Self-respect
  • Ex-boyfriend
  • Great-uncle

4. A hyphen is used with compound modifiers (two words that collective modify another).

  • Greenish-blue eyes
  • Gut-busting laughter
  • Up-to-date calendar

5. A hyphen is used when writing out numbers twenty-one through ninety-nine.
As with all grammar and editorial rules and norms, some simply may not fit with your association’s publication, and a publication-specific style guide will need to be established. But these five rules will get you started in the right hyphen-using direction.