Tag Archive - hyphenation

Hyphenating Numbers and Colors

Hyphens. Probably the most misused bit of punctuation next to the semicolon. Writers hyphenate all over the place, and then leave those pesky things out when they really should use them. So we’re going over a bunch of these hyphenation rules for a few weeks, and today we’re looking at numbers and colors.

The same hyphenation rule that applies to compound modifiers and the various parts of speech also applies to  various categories of words, such as time, color, numbers, and  age. Hyphenate the compound when it appears before the noun; no hyphen following the noun.

  • Age: “a three-year-old girl,” but “she was three years old”
  • Colors: “a blue-green plate,” but “the dish was blue green”
  • Numbers: “He was twenty-five,” but “my grandfather lived to one hundred five” Continue Reading…

Hyphenation–Not-So-Easy-to-Understand Rules

I think the most errors I see when editing manuscripts have to do with hyphenation. In an earlier post, I gave a link to the latest CMOS Hyphenation Chart, and you can download it again here. I refer to it a lot since there are so many diverse rules! Many of the rules deal with modifying a noun (putting an adjective or compound adjective before the noun), as shown in some examples below.

Here are some basic and common usages of hyphenated style:

  • My sixteen-year-old is taking ballet classes from a seventy-year-old woman.
  • He’s wearing a dark-green coat and a blue-gray sweater. [But you would say, “His coat is dark green.”]
  • It’s a black-and-white photo. [But you would say, “The truth is black and white.”]
  • I’m taking a fiction-writing workshop.
  • This is cutting-edge technology. [But you would say, “This tech is cutting edge.”]
  • I’m working a twelve-hour-a-day schedule. [But you would say, “I’m working a twelve-hour day.”]
  • This book is a nineteenth-century romance with twenty-first-century dialog.

A lot of words we tend to hyphenate should be one closed-up word, so check both the handy hyphenation chart and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition (which is the secondary authority below CMOS).

Handy Hyphenation Chart

Hyphenation is a real problem for writers. There are so many rules, and sometimes no consistency to them. The best advice I can give you is to get a CD of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, and download it onto your computer. I use it all the time, every day, as it is the accepted authority in book publishing. (Note: The CD is included in the paperback book in the back, so this way you will have the book as a reference too.)

The Chicago Manual of Style takes precedence over M-W, though, so I encourage you to download this CMOS Hyphenation Chart from CMOS 16th Edition, print it out, and refer to it whenever you are unsure whether a word should be hyphenated or not. Often CMOS will refer you to check M-W for their take on a particular word, so you need both tools. With both of these resources at your fingertips, you will be able to go through your book and clean it up. Remember—your spell-checker will steer you wrong a lot! It will often tag some words as not being in the dictionary when they are correct, and it will sometimes let a misspelling slip through, so use your spell-checker judiciously!

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