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Using Hyphens with Compound Nouns

 Ask a Teacher: Using Hyphens with Compound Nouns
Ask a Teacher: Using Hyphens with Compound Nouns
Using Hyphens with Compound Nouns
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Hello! This week on Ask a Teacher, we will continue to answer a question from Yousra, from Egypt, about using hyphens when making compound nouns.


Hello, my name is Yousra from Egypt.

I would like to know when I should use a hyphen (-) between two words like, “top-selling” or “well-being.”



Dear Yousra,

Thank you for your question! In this week’s program, we will learn some general rules for creating compound nouns with hyphens.

Review of hyphens

In last week’s program, we talked about using hyphens to create a compound adjective. For example, top-selling, meaning, “having the most sales.”

A hyphen (-) is used to combine two or more words together.

What is a compound noun?

A compound noun is two or more nouns combined to create a single noun expression. While we write most compound nouns as one word (“raindrop”) or two separate words (“high school”), some compound nouns use a hyphen. For example, “well-being,” or the state of being happy, healthy, or successful.

We use hyphens with compound nouns so that the sentence is clear and understandable. Just like compound adjectives, you can create compound nouns from adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and other nouns.

How to use hyphens to make compound nouns

1. When combining a verb and an adverb to create a compound noun, use a hyphen. The hyphen connects the adverb to the verb and not another word in the sentence. For example, let’s look at the compound noun, “take-out.” It means food you order from a restaurant to pick up and take with you.

Every Friday night I love getting take-out from my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant.

2. A hyphen is required for compound nouns made from two nouns. These types of nouns act as a unit, like in these examples, “English-speakers” or “hunter-gatherer.”

There are over 1.5 billion English-speakers in the world!

There are many hunter-gatherer societies today that still depend on the natural environment for food.

3. Always check your dictionary if you are unsure if a compound noun requires a hyphen. There are many exceptions to these rules. And, sometimes, a word that once required a hyphen changes over time to become a one-word compound or a two-word compound.

Please let us know if these rules, explanations, and examples have helped you, Yousra.

What question do you have about American English? Send us an email at

And that’s Ask a Teacher.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Faith Pirlo wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

Do you have a question for the teacher? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

compound nounn. (grammar) two or more nouns combined to create a single noun expression.

unit – n. a single thing or a separate part of something larger

societies – n. people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values