When You Don’t Want to Hyphenate

Writers often hyphenate when they aren’t supposed to. It always seems to make sense that if you have two words that sound like they’re connected, you should stick a hyphen between them. But not so. Here are some word combinations that are usually open:

Proper nouns and adjectives relating to geography or nationality, unless the first term is a prefix:

  • Chinese Americans, North Central region, African American, African American president

But you would write: US-Mexico border, Spanish-American organizations.

Chemical terms:

  • sodium chloride, sodium chloride solution

Foreign phrases—open unless hyphenated in the original language. Foreign phrases and words are also italicized:

  • A priori, in vitro fertilization, but vis-à-vis for clarity and meaning. (The actual meaning is face-to-face, also hyphenated.)

Numbers and abbreviations:

  • 25 mi. trip, 3 oz. cup, 5K race

Numbers and percentages:

  • 75 percent, 4.6 percent

Noun and numeral or enumerator:

  • Type 2 diabetes, size 12 font, page 1 placement

So if you’re writing a popular paranormal novel, you might be writing about an American Martian Type 4 undead vampire zombie. No hyphens needed!

2 Responses to “When You Don’t Want to Hyphenate”

  1. JT Stoll May 15, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

    Now that’s just silly… you can’t be a zombie AND a vampire.

    25 mi. trip is no hyphen, but 25-mile trip is hyphenated.

    Correct or incorrect?

    • cslakin May 16, 2014 at 7:07 am #

      Right. When you are using numerals and abbreviated identifying terms to indicate amounts like 5k or 37 mph, you don’t use the hyphen. Keep in mind, though, with US style, numbers are generally spelled out under 101, so I’d write out a twenty-five-mile trip in narrative unless you are being a bit more technical or the paragraph includes comparisons with other numbers larger than 100: He’d rather take a 180-mile trip than a 25-mile trip. Make sense?

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