A hyphen is a short punctuation mark used to join words and to separate syllables of a single word or the characters in a telephone number. When using the automatic hyphenation settings of word processing or page layout software, the software inserts a soft hyphen in a word that falls within the end-of-line hyphenation zone, breaking the word across two lines of text.
Typically the software will have a special preprogrammed H&J dictionary that includes acceptable word break points for inserting soft hyphens. The user may also be able to edit the acceptable word break points as well as adjust hyphenation settings to limit the number of consecutive lines of text that end with soft hyphens.
When reformatting or repaginating the layout due to a change in fonts, a change in margins or column widths, inserting or deleting text, or changing the hyphenation zone, the soft hyphen disappears if the word no longer falls within the hyphenation zone.
By contrast, a plain or hard hyphen is one which stays with the word or phrase no matter where it appears in the text.
The hyphen is a specific character that differs from the en dash or the em dash. Hyphens are usually shorter and thicker than the en dashes although it can vary by font and the difference may be hard to discern, depending on the font.
Although normally associated with print publications, it is possible to use soft hyphens within text on the Web. There is some debate as to the usefulness of hyphenation and justification for controlling line endings (including widows and orphans and creating fully-justified text) on the Web using the soft hyphen. (Represented by ­ or ­ or ­)
- Widows and Orphans in Web Design (About.com Web Design/HTML)
- The Look That Says Book (A List Apart)
- Practical solutions to hyphenate text on web pages (Woork)