The fear is sneakier. We think we understand hyphens, unlike semicolons, but do we overuse them, do we underuse them; are copyeditors laughing in their sleeves about our hyphen use?
Here’s a professional copyeditor secret: while there is a right and wrong when using semicolons, the use of hyphens are much grayer. Be guided by consistency and clarity.
1) Hyphens are often used in a word, such as anti-mouse or pre-nuptial. The trend is to close up these words. When in doubt, check the dictionary.
2) Hyphens are used to connect modifiers. For example “a middle school social studies class” has four modifiers and they don’t all modify the class directly. And so a few well-placed hyphens will make that word salad much easier to read (please ignore the mixed metaphors, thank you) “a middle-school social-studies class.”
2a) As we have seen above, if you have an adjective that consists of more than one word that modifies a noun, add a hyphen.
2b) Do not use a hyphen with an adverb. “Her barely-there bikini” is just wrong. Wrong. Don’t do it.
2c) To summarize: hyphenating adjectives is usually okay.
3) One tricky thing to remember is that words that are hyphenated before a noun are often set open (unhyphenated) after a noun. “The decision-making committee was full of decision makers” or “The reddish-brown dog was reddish brown.”
What other questions do you have about hyphens? If I get enough encouragement, I may just explain the existence of en dashes and em dashes. Try to contain your enthusiasm.
Aha! Oh dear. . .
Yes? You realize this is the second time in FIVE MINUTES that I’ve received that response to a blog comment.
You’re scaring us, that’s what it is.
Which part is scary? (Minus the poetry bit—I know why that’s scary.) My goal is to make it sound scary and then explain how it’s not as difficult as it seems.
There are a lot of rules to hyphens, and I believe I’ve broken the one about adverbs on a number of occasions. Before this, I was blissfully ignorant.
Oops. Guess you’re going to hell, where demons will make you diagram sentences all day long and laugh at you when you get it wrong.
I’ll sleep a little better tonight, Indy.
Good. That’s probably because you weren’t the one who had to find the spider picture in the previous post. *shudder*
Explain the em dash!!!!!!!!!!
And follow that with the overuse of exclamation points.
And it’s self-explanatory.*
*Always use a hyphen with “self.”
I’ve broken the one about adverbs, too. I realize I need this information if I’m going to self-publish and want to look professional without asking an editor friend for help, but I’m feeling like Averil said she was.
Maybe I’m just having a sensory overload day. I’ll try to commit this to memory later.
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The “barely-there bikini” is wrong because of the punctuation or the fact that it’s barely there? In some contexts at least one of those could be right.
An excellent question. There are reasons why it is right, but none of them are grammatical.
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