Tag Archive - hyphenation

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!

More Handy Hyphenation Rules

I’ve presented a number of posts on hyphenation, so if this is a subject that you get stuck on, check out previous posts by putting “hyphenation” in the search bar at the top of the page.

It’s good to know that in some cases the meaning of a word changes if you hyphenate it. Take a look at these pairs of words:

  • rebound: to spring back or recover; re-bound: to tie again (retie)
  • recollect: remember; re-collect: collect again (regather)
  • recover: heal, restore; re-cover: to cover something again
  • recreate: to engage in recreation; re-create: to create again

Notice that this is an issue with words that begin with the prefix re. Continue Reading…

A Simple Hyphenation Rule That Is Well Advised

One hyphenation rule that you can almost take to the bank is this one: When you use a compound adjective (or phrasal adjective) before a noun, use a hyphen. When the phrasal adjective comes after the noun, it is usually open.

See how this plays out with various parts of speech:

  • Middle-class neighborhood, but the neighborhood is middle class (adjective + noun)
  • Open-ended question, but the question was open ended (adjective + participle)
  • Much-needed rain, but rain was much needed (adverb + participle or adjective)

But adverbs ending in ly + participle or adjective are almost always open whether they are used before or after a noun.

  • Overly protective mother
  • Highly skilled employees

Likewise, compounds with more, most, less, least, and very are usually open unless the meaning could be confused.

  • Most literate employees (referring to number of employees)
  • Most-literate employees (referring to literacy capacity)

Rules with participles:

  • Flag-waving citizen, but citizens waving flags (noun + participle)
  • Cutting-edge technology, but technology is cutting edge. (participle + noun)

Participle + up, out, and similar adverbs:

  • Fired-up employees, but employees were fired up.
  • Tuckered-out children, but children were tuckered out.

You can see there is a general rule here. When you place the compound after  a noun, you usually leave it in open construction. When it comes before the noun, it’s usually closed.

But always double check the word in your dictionary to make sure it’s not one of those exceptions to the rule, which is a common occurrence in the English language.

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