What is a hyphen with an example

The hyphen

After a few introductory paragraphs, this text deals with the question of when hyphens should be used in compound words.


In this text, we want to understand one as a letter or a hyphen.

A is supposed to be a sequence of consecutive word characters if there is no further word character directly in front of or directly behind it.

One should be a word or a sequence of several words separated by spaces, but otherwise written one after the other, which could be in a sentence as a subject.


Although compounds can also be formed from more than two constituents, we limit ourselves here to the case of two nouns for the sake of simplicity. In this sense, a compound word is a combination of two nouns to form a noun phrase, in which the connection is made either by writing directly one after the other without spaces or by combining them with a hyphen. However, joint letters can still be inserted at the word joint. The direct consecutive writing is the normal case. A hyphen is used in special cases, which are dealt with below.


"Shipping bag" (from "shipping" and "bag")

Below we will also consider compositions of other parts of speech and compositions of more than two constituents in individual cases.

Restrictive appositions

Although restrictive appositions can also be formed from more than two constituents, we limit ourselves here to the case of two constituents for the sake of simplicity. In this sense, a restrictive apposition is a combination of two nouns to form a noun phrase that is written one after the other, if this is written one after the other in such a way that the two constituents remain two words, separated by a space, and not connected by a hyphen or directly consecutive become.


"Rathaus Schöneberg" (from "Rathaus" and "Schöneberg")

The term "narrow apposition" is also common for restrictive apposition. Since we will not deal with other forms of apposition in the following, we will simply refer to them as "apposition" from now on.

(Since joint letters are never inserted in appositions, joint letters help to make the difference to an apposition audible in compositions.)

Differentiation between compounds and appositions

In the case of compound words and appositions, the meaning of a basic word is often determined or narrowed down by a defining word. In the composition, the basic word is at the end, in the apposition at the beginning.

A "shipping bag" is a bag (basic word) for shipping (destination).

The "Rathaus Schöneberg" is the town hall (basic word) of Schöneberg (destination).

This text does not deal further with the question of when a composition and when an apposition is chosen, but from now on only deals with the compounds. So with the connections of two nouns, in which the basic word is at the end.

Wrong spaces

In parlance, one also finds wrong spaces in compound words. For example, in the spelling "Leibniz Universität". These may be errors that arise from taking over from English, where this type of connection is possible. But there is also evidence that it also occurred in German when the German language was less uniformly regulated. It is also possible that the user has mistakenly adopted the delimitation of the appositions.

We will not deal with this topic any further, because the main focus of this text is when the two constituents of a compound should be written one after the other and when they should be separated by a hyphen.

Hyphens in compound words

Compounds are usually formed by writing two nouns directly one after the other. However, in some cases it is better to separate them with a hyphen. A separation by a space is ruled out with compound words.

In the following we name a few cases in which a hyphen is recommended.

Boundary joint between two types of text

Within a compound we write a hyphen instead of the zero character (instead of no character) at the boundary of certain different types of text.

Border joint between two pronunciation rules or languages

"Software order". ("Software" is pronounced according to different rules than "order".)

"Web page" (as opposed to the "loom").

Here, however, it is written directly one after the other if the word is already well established in German, such as in the case of "espionage": "spy satellite"

Border joint to names

"The Mayer-Hype" (personal name)

"A German-English translator" (name of languages)

"Apollo spaceship" (name of a thing)

"Henninger Tower" (however: "Henninger Tower", with "Henninger" as an attribute)


"North Rhine-Westphalia" (geographical area names)

"Hamburg Report"

however: "nationwide"

For certain places with city districts or points of the compass:

"East Munich"

"West Berlin"

Border joint to acronyms

"FDP documents"


Boundary joint to abbreviations

"Part. Submission"

Border joint to reified words

"If questioning" ("if" does not have its normal function here as a conjunction)

"Yes-no question" ("Yes" does not have its normal function as a particle here)

Boundary joint to reified characters

"Dative-E" ("E" is a noun that only consists of one character and would therefore hardly be recognizable without a hyphen)
"Knock knees"

Boundary joint to strings

"9.99 offer" ("9.99" is not a normal word because it contains a comma)

however: "a 33 year old" (number without commas) (We did not include the digits above among the word signs. In certain cases, however, they can appear as such.)

Boundary fugue to phrases

"7-bit code"

"Red Cross Sister"

"200 souls village"

(By a "phrase" we mean a finite sequence of at least two words, for which there is at least one correct sentence in which it occurs in object language [apart from a possibly different upper / lower case].)

Boundary joint to phrases in quotation marks

"The" yellow dot "action" (plenary minutes, German Bundestag, March 4, 1982)

Reification of a verb phrase

"The Word of Going to the Deep" (Celan)

Open compounds

To reproduce a phrase that is an open compound in a foreign language:

"The assessment center"

Clarification of togetherness

"The subway strike" (not: "the subway strike")

A "subway strike" would be a railway strike, which is determined by the "U". What is meant, however, is a strike, which is defined more precisely by “U-Bahn”. That is why the impression must be avoided that “strike” is closer to Bahn than “U”. Here a word that already contains a hyphen is combined with a word without a hyphen. The word with the hyphen should continue to apply as a unit.

“Das Telebrief-Zentrum” a center for tele-letters


Sequences of the same signs

To avoid three identical vowels in a row at a compositional fugue:

"Coffee substitute"

Avoidance of digraphs

"Type derivation" (instead of "type derivation" with the digraph "ph")

Avoid using trigraphs

"District Choir Association" (instead of "Kreischorverband" with the trigraph "sch")

Avoidance of misinterpretations

"Print product" (not: "printer certificate")

"Verse-Ende" (not the verb form "Versende")

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