TO HYPHENATE OR NOT TO HYPHENATE, THAT IS THE QUESTION BY K J ROLLINSON

Everything you (yes, you) need to know about hyphens and compound adjectives, with a funny infographic showing why hyphens matter.

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TO HYPHENATE OR NOT TO HYPHENATE, THAT IS THE QUESTION BY K J ROLLINSON

Do you know the rules that govern hyphenated words? I didn’t know when I began writing, and I relied on my ‘instinct’ or a dictionary and online information to guide me. Gradually, I came aware that there are distinct rules.

I was dithering whether to put foot or feet – when I was describing my protagonist in my latest book ‘Where Lies My Heart’ – whether to put six feet tall or six foot tall. Evidently, it doesn’t matter whether you use foot or feet, BUT the rules change, dependent whether you use feet or foot.

When it functions as an adjective phrase before a noun you use the singular form and hyphenate it – six-foot-tall. If the description comes after a verb you don’t use hyphens and use the plural form – six feet tall.

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About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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4 Responses to TO HYPHENATE OR NOT TO HYPHENATE, THAT IS THE QUESTION BY K J ROLLINSON

  1. Except that no two dictionaries agree on ANY of this. It’s the wild, wild west in the hyphenated land.

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  2. And, oh yeah, the entire subject of compound words? On-line, online, on line and a zillion others. Nobody agrees on nothin’.

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  3. Many thanks for your reblog, Thomas. I agree with Marilyn Armstrong when she uses the example of ‘online’. My Word programme doesn’t have a squiggly red line under either online or On-line, but my two dictionaries both have online.

    As I have said in answer to one comment on my blog,, that it is imperative Indie authors strive to excellence in their use of grammar, but rules sometimes make writing a minefield.

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  4. Some of the multiple-hypen combinations look odd to me. I agree with Marilyn; I suspect there may be disagreement concerning things that were presented as absolutes in the article.

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