Tag Archives: hyphens

A Few More Thoughts About Hyphens

The topic of hyphens can be confusing because different styles prevail for business, news, scientific and academic writing. If your employer uses a stylebook, follow that. Otherwise, the rules I gave last week should see you through. The rules are not always hard and fast. Here are a few more situations you might encounter:

1. If omitting the hyphen could cause confusion, be sure to use it: a small-business owner (without that hyphen, the reader might think the owner is on the short side).

2. When you have a proper noun (such as a person’s name) of two or more words being used as a compound adjective, hyphenate it: a Louis CK-like situation.

3. When two or more hyphenated words modify the same noun, one hyphen can do for both: a publicly-owned and –operated corporation; a Tony- and Grammy-award-winning performance.

I hope all of you, particularly my readers on the East Coast, are safe and warm. Be careful, please.

© Judi Birnberg "There Must Be a Hyphen in There Someplace"

© Judi Birnberg
“There Must Be a Hyphen in There Someplace”

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A Common Use of Hyphens

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Without hyphens, what would you make of the following sentences?

1. I saw a man-eating shark.
2. At the conference were 40-odd men and women.
3. Ancient history tells us about gift-bearing Greeks.
4. The college had to limit all-night discussions in the dorms.

Without those hyphens, you would have seen a male person eating a shark. You could very well see a man eating a serving of shark, but eating a shark gives you an entirely different picture.

You may have already attended a conference or two with 40 weird people, but the sentence above tells you there were approximately 40 people there. We do not know if they were all odd.

Gift-bearing Greeks is quite different than a gift bearing Greeks. That would be the Trojan horse.

Finally, the college is not limiting every discussion that takes place in the dorms at night, only discussions that last all night.

When you have one or more words that modify the noun that follows them, use a hyphen between those words that serve as adjectives if without the hyphens the meaning could be misconstrued. However, when the adjectives follow the noun, do not use hyphens. Therefore, you’d have celebrities who are hard to please or hard-to-please celebrities. Your choice.

Again, I don’t make up these rules; I just teach them.

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Compound Adjectives as Modifiers

You’ll need to use a hyphen when a two-or three-word (or more) adjective combination comes before a noun:

A three-week vacation

A family-owned business

An out-of-the-blue surprise

If you fail to use a hyphen in some sentences, you might end up writing, “Forty odd people attended the meeting.” It may be that all 40 were weirdos, but when you add a hyphen you show that approximately 40 attendees were there (although some of them may have been nuts). You’re just not certain of the actual body count in attendance.

However, if an adverb combination comes before a noun, do not use a hyphen:

A hastily gathered petition

The lazily flowing river

Remember, not all adverbs end in -ly. The daily newspaper shows an example of an adjective that ends in -ly.

Family and homily are two -ly words that are nouns.

 

 

 

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