Hyphens can cause problems. When should they be used? When shouldn’t they be used? What are the rules?

Firstly, there aren’t any hard and fast rules. If you’re following a particular style guide (Chicago, Harvard, MLA, etc), then they all have their own specifications.

But if you’re looking for a general guide, then you’ve come to the right place.

Hyphens should aways be used in terms such as “self-assured”, “self-indugent”, and so on. Basically, any phrase starting with “self” should be hyphenated.

But phrases which describe a noun, eg, “he was an over-indulgent person”, “she was a pretty-looking girl”, “it was a very ordinary-looking world”, should be hyphenated. UNLESS the word ends in -ly. For example, “it was an indulgantly looking table”, “he is an overly accomplished guitarist”, “she is a serverely free comedian of being funny”.

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