To hyphenate or not to hyphenate; that is the question.
Is the glass half full or half-full? The answer is not simple. There are so many exceptions it can drive you a little batty.
The grammar books advise us to use the hyphen to form some compound words expressing a combination of ideas, such as cross-reference.
It is also used in SOME compound adjectives (note the use of the word “some”). This means when you use two words as a single modifier before a noun, those two words are hyphenated. For example, Meryl Streep is a well-known actor. The words “well and “known” combine to form one modifier for “actor.” BUT: Meryl Streep is well known. The two words are no longer describing another word and come after the noun.
Sometimes words can mean different things depending on the hyphenation. When you hyphenate the words, you are applying them as a single unit to the noun. For example: A hot-water bottle is a bottle for holding hot water. BUT: A hot water bottle is a water bottle that is hot. My pants need to be re-pressed, but my negative thoughts need to be repressed.
An exception is with a compound modifier containing an “ly” word. You do NOT use a hyphen in that case: clearly defined terms. (I want to, though!)
Use hyphens in fractions: one-half, two-thirds; and compound numbers: twenty-one (up to ninety-nine).
Use the hyphen for SOME prefixes. Usually prefixes do not need hyphens, as in predetermine or unnatural. But use the hyphen when it precedes a capitalized word (un-American) or when a capital letter combines with a word (A-frame) or when it links two words using the same letter (de-emphasize). Some prefixes, such as self-, all-, and ex- usually require hyphens.
The safest thing to do when you're unsure about hyphenating is to look the words up in a dictionary.
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.