Durham Tech Communication and Style Guide

3. Hyphenation

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In general, a pair or a group of words is hyphenated to indicate that the words are taken together as a unit or a single concept. The following notes will explain why there are variations in the way the same words are hyphenated.

3.1 Clusters of words

Is it part-time or part time? Either could be right — depending on how those words are used in a particular sentence.

Whenever two or more words are used together as a compound adjective and they precede a noun, the cluster of modifiers is hyphenated. Whenever the same cluster functions as some other part of speech, the cluster is NOT hyphenated.

Examples: I work part time.
It is a 20-credit-hour program.
He is a part-time student who also works full time.
He works on campus as a clerical assistant.
It is tough to find on-campus housing.
Our students are enrolled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Dictionaries show accepted methods of hyphenating commonly used clusters such as round-the-clock, well-known, and long-standing.

**Never hyphenate an adverb before an adjective.**

Correct: It is a generally accepted fact.
Incorrect: The federally-funded program has come under scrutiny.

3.2  Compound Nouns

Consult a reputable print or online dictionary (such as http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary) when in doubt about whether or not to hyphenate compound nouns such as mother-in-law.

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