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hyphens: introduction

The most common use for the hyphen is to join the elements of a compound term. Such a term is a combination of two or more words that have become unified in form and meaning through frequent use together.

The trend over the years has been for the English compound to begin as two separate words, then be hyphenated and finally become a single word written without a space or hyphen.

The existence of these three different forms for compounds means that there is a great deal of variation in their spelling, even among dictionaries; and hyphenation has become one of the most controversial points of editorial style. As a result, in the matter of hyphenation, writers have to exercise their personal judgment; and the rules we present are not intended to preclude that.

As a general practice, we recommend that you consult the Canadian Oxford Dictionary for the form of frequently used compounds, and then follow the rules in our articles on hyphenation for any compounds not found in the dictionary.