When I listened to a new program, I heard a word "life-saving" and I thought it was life saving without the hyphen.

Medical community is outraged after a life-saving drugs.

I have seen other forms of words that have a hyphen (-) such as fire-proof and two-seater aircraft. How would I exactly know the words that have a hyphen in to avoid my confusion? Is there any grammatical reason behind this?

  • 3
    If it's a common word, dictionaries would be your best friends! (For example, Macmillan lists both spellings: lifesaving and life-saving.) Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 0:47
  • That quotation must not be complete. It's certainly not a complete sentence. And when you say you thought it was life saving without a hyphen, do you mean you thought it ought to be written as two separate words, but you heard it (as if) hyphenated in the program? Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 11:10

2 Answers 2


A common use of hyphens is with words that form a compound adjective, such as, state-of-the-art, life-saving and so on.

There are, however, many rules when and when not to use hyphens. For example, check out a few from this link.

Rule 1. Generally, hyphenate two or more words when they come before a noun they modify and act as a single idea. This is called a compound adjective.

Examples: an off-campus apartment state-of-the-art design

When a compound adjective follows a noun, a hyphen may or may not be necessary.

Example: The apartment is off campus.

However, some established compound adjectives are always hyphenated. Double-check with a dictionary or online.

Example: The design is state-of-the-art.

Rule 2a. A hyphen is frequently required when forming original compound verbs for vivid writing, humor, or special situations.

Examples: The slacker video-gamed his way through life. Queen Victoria throne-sat for six decades.

Rule 2b. When writing out new, original, or unusual compound nouns, writers should hyphenate whenever doing so avoids confusion.

Examples: I changed my diet and became a no-meater. No-meater is too confusing without the hyphen.

The slacker was a video gamer. Video gamer is clear without a hyphen, although some writers might prefer to hyphenate it.

Writers using familiar compound verbs and nouns should consult a dictionary or look online to decide if these verbs and nouns should be hyphenated.

Rule 3. An often overlooked rule for hyphens: The adverb very and adverbs ending in -ly are not hyphenated.

Incorrect: the very-elegant watch

Incorrect: the finely-tuned watch

This rule applies only to adverbs. The following two sentences are correct because the -ly words are adjectives rather than adverbs:

Correct: the friendly-looking dog

Correct: a family-owned cafe

Here's another.

  • 1
    That first one is a very helpful link, but I think this answer would be improved if a few of those rules were included in this answer, instead of only at the linked-to website.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 9:20
  • Done. Implemented your suggestion!
    – Mamta D
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 11:04

To add on to Mamta D's answer (I felt my answer would be too long for a comment), you can turn almost anything into a compound adjective with hyphens, as long as it is a phrase that describes the noun. A common colloquialism in American English is to add "-ass" to an adjective to emphasize the quality of it -- the most common being "bad-ass," "bad" being used as the now-outdated (there's another example for you) slang for "cool" or "tough."

However, as with the "off-campus" example, there are many instances where if the word order is changed, the hyphen is dropped. This is because usually the component words of the compound adjective form a phrase of some kind -- very commonly, a prepositional phrase. The sentence provided in that example is such a case; "off campus" is a prepositional phrase when the word order is changed. "Now outdated" is also a prepositional phrase, if I were to move it:

Bad is used as in slang for "cool" or "tough," which is now outdated.

Hopefully hyphen rules make more sense for you now.

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