A hyphen between two words indicates that both words are needed to convey the clearest meaning. Using a hyphen to connect two or more words essentially makes them one word. Thus, the hyphen is used correctly when all of the words joined are needed to convey the clearest meaning.
Example of improper usage
Consider the example provided in the cropped image. Using a hyphen to connect visionary and thinking suggests that visionary-thinking is some unique form of thinking. It very well may be, but if that were what was really meant that distinction is so unconventional that it should be described more elsewhere. Because it is not, the hyphen really is not needed. (In addition, here we see a correct use of the word ensure, which we discussed last week.)
Example of proper usage
Correctly used, the hyphen joins together words that act together. Consider a shade of color that combines both red and gray. Here is an example of a correct use of the hyphen.
Rule of thumb
Performing a brief comparison has always helped me to use the hyphen correctly.
To know whether a hyphen is needed, I simply ask myself whether each word alone suffices as a modifier. If I can use the words by themselves to communicate my meaning, then I don’t need the hyphen. If I can’t, then I do.
And hyphens can connect different parts of speech as well as just adjectives. Consider a restaurant shaped like a pie and located at the top of a huge tower. We might indicate the midnight closing time of said establishment with a sentence like this one:
I hope you find this tip helpful. If you have another device that helps you to use the hyphen correctly, please share it with everyone below.