Modifying a noun

When two or more words together modify another noun, they are often hyphenated.
  • The former drug addict became a born-again Christian.

However, the determining factor for hyphenation is grammatical function. For example, when born again functions as a predicate it is not hyphenated.
  • The former drug addict is born again.

An exception to the above is an adverbial modifier ending in –ly, which is never hyphenated.
  • A widely recognized expert recommends that children read more.

Prefixes that do not use hyphens

In most cases, the following prefixes do not use hyphens and form closed compounds: anti-, multi-, non-, para-, post-, pre-, re-, semi-, un-.
  • anticlimatic
  • postmodern
  • prehistorical
  • unchurched
  • multinational
  • reunify
  • nondiscrimination
  • semicolon
  • parachurch

Prefixes that do use hyphens

Hyphens are, however, used with these same prefixes in the following situations:

1. before a proper noun
  • anti-Semitic
  • non-Christian

2. when the resulting word could be confused for another word
  • re-create
  • re-cover

3. when the prefix stands alone
  • micro- and macroeconomics

4. with some repeated vowels
  • anti-intellectual
  • co-op
  • (except reexamine, preexistent, etc.)

5. with compounds that might be otherwise confusing
  • pro-life

co- retains the hyphen when forming nouns, adjectives and verbs that indicate occupation or status:
  • co-author
  • co-pilot
  • co-host
  • co-signer
  • co-owner
  • co-star

The following prefixes form hyphenated compounds: all-, cross-, ex-, full-, half-, self- and well-.
  • all-powerful
  • half-baked
  • cross-cultural
  • self-righteous
  • ex-convict
  • well-known
  • full-blown

Ethnic Designations

The following ethnic designations are generally not hyphenated when used as nouns.
  • African American
  • Native American
  • Asian American
  • Irish American


The suffix –like is not usually hyphenated.
  • Christlike
  • childlike


The prefix vice is not hyphenated and is left open, as in the title vice president.