Ragan readers, you know what I’m talking about. Even when you’re not looking for them, you see them. I’m talking about spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors on signs, in movie credits, on magazine covers. They’re everywhere, and we can’t help but notice them.
Last week, I drove past a billboard that said, “Your coworking headquarters.” I had to look twice to make sure I understood what the sign meant.
That billboard brought to mind my least favorite punctuation mark, the hyphen, and how hyphens are generally used to avoid ambiguity, yet they confuse everyone.
Hyphens connect words, prefixes, and suffixes. Regrettably, a definitive collection of hyphenation rules does not exist. Rather, different style manuals prescribe different usage guidelines.
In the style guide that I use most frequently—the American Medical Association Manual of Style—there are eight pages on the hyphen. These pages include rules for when you should use hyphens and when you should not.
Here is an abridged version of the hyphenation rules taken from the AMA Manual of Style.
Hyphenate when the terms are used as an adjective before the noun.
Hyphenate two nouns of equal participation used as a single noun.