Posted May 10, 2018

Did you know there are actually four different ways to use hyphens? Choosing the right type of hyphenation can be confusing, especially when following APA rules. For example, is the correct form first-grade or first grade? Although daunting, properly selecting the correct hyphenation according to APA requirements will help establish the clear, concise, and academic language necessary for doctoral-level research and publication. The following list includes the four types of compounds that require hyphenation:

  1. two separate words,
  2. a hyphenated word,
  3. one unbroken “solid” word, and
  4. a temporary compound.

A temporary compound consists of two or more words that occur together to express a thought. Because the English language is always expanding, and new hyphenated words appear, deciding whether a hyphen should be used can be difficult. When making these decisions, consider referring to Webster’s Collegiate dictionary as a guide, which is the dictionary APA references. When a temporary compound modifies another word, it may be hyphenated. This hyphenation depends on the position of the temporary compound in the sentence and whether the pairing of a compound with another word can cause the reader to misinterpret the meaning. It is important to remember if temporary compounds precede what they modify, the compound may need to be hyphenated. If a temporary compound follows what it modifies, it usually does not require hyphenation.

Examples (hyphenated vs. nonhyphenated):

  • A well-written dissertation vs. The dissertation was well written
  • The two-stage analysis vs. The analysis had two stages
  • The first-grade children vs. The children were in first grade

Hyphens, Dashes, and Minus Signs

  • Hyphen: use no space before or after (e.g., well-known, full-scale)
  • Em Dash: Longer than a hyphen and en dash. Used to set off an element added to amplify or digress from the main clause
  • En Dash: Longer and thinner than a hyphen but shorter than an em dash. Used between words of equal weight in a compound adjective. Also used in types of ranges and items of equal weight (e.g., 245–260)
  • Minus Sign: Same length as an en dash but is slightly thicker and higher. Commonly used with negative values and mathematical copy

General Rules for When to Hyphenate

  1. A fraction used as an adjective (e.g., three-fourths of voters)
  2. A phrase used as an adjective when it precedes the term it modifies (e.g., all-or-none poker game)
  3. A compound with a participle when it precedes the term it modifies (e.g., food-deprived mammals)

General Rules of When Not to Hyphenate

  1. Chemical terms (e.g., amino acid compound)
  2. A compound including an adverb ending in ly (e.g., relatively wide sample)
  3. A compound including a comparative or superlative adjective (e.g., higher scoring professors)

Keep in mind that if a compound adjective can be misread, a hyphen should be used. If a compound adjective follows a term, do not use a hyphen.

Prefixed Words That Require Hyphens

  1. Compound words in which the base word is capitalized or is a number (e.g., pre-Columbian civilization or post-1990)
  2. Words that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted (e.g., re-form, re-pair)
  3. Words in which the prefix ends and the base word begins with the same vowel (e.g., co-exist, meta-analysis)

For more rules, general principles, and lists of hyphenations, see APA 6 (pp, 98–100). Hopefully this blog will help you differentiate between the types of hyphenation and the rules regarding how and when to use hyphens. If you run into problems or concerns with the hyphenation use in your document, do not hesitate to reach out—Statistics Solutions is here to help!

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