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August 7, 2009

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A Much-Needed Hyphen Tutorial

Aha! We talked about this before, and I got good advice, but @thatwhichmatter settles it:

HYPHEN? [1/3] Use hyphen to join 2+ words serving as 1 adjective before noun. (chocolate-covered pretzel, much-needed vacation)

HYPHEN? [2/3] But when they (compound modifiers) come after the noun, they’re not hyphenated. (The vacation to Slovenia was much needed.)

HYPHEN? [3/3] Use a hyphen to qualify an upcoming hyphenated phrase. (The parrot is a ten- or eleven-year-old.)

Point [2/3] was still tripping me up. Thanks, @thatwhichmatter!

Posted August 7, 2009 at 3:17 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted


Slightly complicating point 1, use no hyphen for a compound modifiers that consists of an adverb and an adjective:

"well formed formula"
"much needed vacation"

(There's no question "much" modifies "needed," but it's conceivable one might wonder, without a hyphen, whether the pretzel is both chocolate and covered, or if it is covered in chocolate.)

Further complicating things, there are lots of exceptions:

"grade school students," not "grade-school students" as the rule would seem to call for.

Condensing grammatical advice into tweet form(ula) is a terrific exercise. It's essentially what Strunk and White's The Elements of Style does, which is why that book's simultaneously so beloved and reviled.

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