Asking these questions and following the advice will answer most of your hyphenation questions. However, not every compound will follow these guidelines, so take a look at the relevant sections to explore further.
Are you dealing with:
- a prefix? Usually set solid, unless the word would be ambiguous or look wrong (see Prefixes)
multiverse undertaker re-leased [leased again, vs set free] anti-inflammatory [not antiinflammatory]
fearless grateful kindness ownership
Do the system back-up. I will back up my work.
a government-owned building the building is government owned
- a common word or phrase? Do not use a hyphen; set solid or leave open. Compounds that are well established are more likely to have lost the hyphen, especially noun and verb compounds (see Compound nouns and Compound verbs)
website downfall equal opportunity primary school [nouns]
babysit daydreamed downplay [verbs]
Did you know? New words are often created by compounding (where 2 or more words are brought together to form a single word). The usual path for a new word is for 2 words (eg to and day) to become hyphenated (to-day) and then for the hyphen to be dropped (today).
Many of the single words we know today started life as 2 or more words. But the longer form now looks strange. For example:
- any thing
- clock work
- every one
- for ever
- good bye
- in stead
- none the less
- note book
- some body
- teen age
- to morrow
- waist coat
- what so ever.