APA Fact of the Week – Hyphenation

Posted July 5, 2016

For more information and examples, see APA6, Section 4.13.

  • Hyphen: Use no space before or after (e.g., trial-by-trial).
  • Em dash: An em dash is longer than a hyphen or en dash and is used to set off an element added to amplify or to digress from the main clause (e.g., Studies—published and unpublished—are included). Use no space before or after an em dash.  If an em dash is not available on your keyboard, use two hyphens with no space before or after. The shortcut is to press Ctrl + - + - (2 hyphens) = ­­––.
  • En dash: An en dash is longer and thinner than a hyphen but shorter than an em dash, and is used between words of equal weight in a compound adjective (e.g., Chicago–London flight). This hyphen is also used between number ranges, such as page numbers in citations and references.  Type as an en dash (–) by pressing Ctrl + - , a single hyphen.  Use no space before or after.
  • Minus sign: A typeset minus sign is the same length as an en dash, but it is slightly thicker and slightly higher. If a minus sign is not available in your Word-processing program, use a hyphen with space on both sides (e.g., a - b).  For a negative value, use a hyphen rather than a minus sign, with a space before but no space after (e.g., -5.25).

General Rules for Using Hyphenation

  • If a compound adjective can be misread, use a hyphen.
    • In the jungle, I saw a man eating peacock! In the jungle, I saw a man-eating peacock! (In the first sentence, it implies that a man is eating a peacock; in the second, it implies that the peacock is aggressive and eats people.)
  • Use a hyphen if the term can be misread or if the term expresses a single thought (i.e., all words together modify the noun).
    • For Susan, it was a sit-on-the-couch-and-drink-wine-with-her-cat kind of day.
  • If a compound adjective follows the term, do not use a hyphen, because relationships are sufficiently clear without one.
    • Light-brown puppies puppies that are light brown
  • Write most words formed with prefixes as one word (no hyphen needed).
    • Copresident, not Co-president
    • Pseudopsychology not pseudo-psychology
    • Midlife crisis not mid-life crisis
  • When two or more compound modifiers have a common base, that base is sometimes omitted in all except the last modifier, but the hyphens are retained.
    • We only had 6-, 7-, and 8-pronged forks to use at the dinner party.
    • At the zoo, we saw long- and short-necked giraffes.

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