Tag Archives: proper use of hyphens

#amwriting: compound words and hyphens

Compound words are frequently a source of grief when I receive my manuscript back from my editor. Despite my best efforts, unless I am on my toes in the writing process I habitually hyphenate words that should not be hyphenated.

Most people know that a compound word is a combination of two or more words that function as a single unit of meaning.

Most people also know that there are two types of compounds:

  • those written as single words, with no hyphenation and which are called “closed compounds”– such as the word “bedspread,”
  • “hyphenated compounds,” such as “jack-in-the-box” and “self-worth.”

But there is a third group, and they are the bane of my writing life–those mysterious, ephemeral denizens of the deepest corner of writer’s hell, called open compounds. These seemingly innocent instruments of torture are written as separate words–the nouns “school bus” and “decision making,” for example.

Fortunately, the English language has rules to guide us when deciding if it’s one word, two separate words, or a hyphenated word:  

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or, as with many psychological terms, its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary.

The American Psychological Association  style guide gives of these examples:

covert learning techniques, health care reform, day treatment program, sex role differences, grade point average

Use a hyphen in a temporary compound that is used as an adjective before a noun

Use a hyphen if the term can be misread or if the term expresses a single thought.

  • “the children resided in two parent homes” means that two homes served as residences, whereas if the children resided in “two-parent homes,” they each would live in a household headed by two parents.  In that case, a properly placed hyphen helps the reader understand the intended meaning.

We also use hyphens for compound words that fall into these categories:

  • if the base word is capitalized: pro-African
  • when writing numbers: post-1910, twenty-two
  • an abbreviation: pre-ABNA manuscript
  • more than one word: non-achievement-oriented students
  • All “self-” compounds whether they are adjectives or nouns such as self-respect, self-esteem, self-paced.

We hyphenate words that could be misunderstood when there are diverse meanings if they’re unhyphenated:

  • re-pair (to pair again) as opposed to repair (to mend)
  • re-form (to form again) as opposed to reform (to improve)

We hyphenate words in which the prefix ends, and the base word begins with the same vowel:

  • metaanalysis
  • antiintellectual

The problem is unless you are a technical writer, how often are we going to use those terms? Hence, the confusion when we DO use them.

Get It Write online says, “One way to decide if a hyphen is necessary is to see if the phrase might be ambiguous without it. For example, “large-print paper” might be unclear written as “large print paper” because the reader might combine “print” and “paper” as a single idea rather than combining “large” and “print.” Another such example is “English-language learners.” Without the hyphen, a reader might think we are talking about English people who are learning any language rather than people who are learners of the English language.”

A good rule to remember is most words formed with prefixes and suffixes are written as one word with NO hyphen.

Prefixes: Afterglow, extracurricular, multiphase, socioeconomic

Sufixes: Arachnophobia, wavelike, angiogram

When I am laying down prose in the first draft, my natural inclination when writing these words would be to hyphenate them, but that is wrong, and my editor always kindly reminds me of this.

When in doubt, it is wisest to look the word up in an online dictionary to see the various different ways it can be combined. Just go to:

http://www.merriam-webster.com

What it all comes down to is this—when editing for another author I am able to see these things clearly. In my own work–it’s like my finger has a twitch that absolutely MUST add a hyphen to compound words that should remain separate, and separates words that should be joined.

This is why the editor has an editor for her own work.


Credits and Attributions:

When do you need to use a hyphen for compound words? The American Psychological Association, http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/when-use-hyphen.aspx accessd June 25, 2017

Compound Words: When to Hyphenate, Get It Write, Nancy Tuten and Gayle Swanson  http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/042703compwdshyph.htm, 2017

Parts of this post were originally posted March 4, 2014, as Hyphen Help Us, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2014-2017.

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#amwriting: Hyphens are the Devil

Book- onstruction-sign copyAs it is March and is that month known as National Novel Editing Month, or NaNoEdMo, I will be be revisiting some of my posts on the craft of writing. Today we are looking at that most abused morsel of punctuation, the Hyphen. In my own work I will be looking at each hyphen and deciding if it stays or if it goes. Much of the time, they must go. 


Most authors know that a compound word is a combination of two or more words that function as a single unit of meaning. Most of us even know that there are two types of compounds: those written as single words, with no hyphenation and which are called “closed compounds”– such as the word “bedspread,”  AND  the “hyphenated compounds,” such as “jack-in-the-box” and “self-worth.”

But there is a third group, and they are the bane of my life–those mysterious, ephemeral denizens of the deepest corner of writer’s hell, called open compounds. These seemingly innocent instruments of torture are written as separate words–the nouns “school bus” and “decision making,” for example.

But how do I tell if  it’s one word, two words or a hyphenated word?  

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective cannot be misread or, as with many psychological terms, its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary. For example:

  • covert learning techniques,
  • health care reform,
  • day treatment program,
  • sex role differences,
  • grade point average

Do use one in a temporary compound that is used as an adjective before a noun, use a hyphen if the term can be misread or if the term expresses a single thought:

For example:

“the children resided in two parent homes” means that two homes served as residences, whereas if the children resided in “two-parent homes,” they each would live in a household headed by two parents.  In that case, a properly placed hyphen helps the reader understand the intended meaning.

We also use hyphens for compound words that fall into these catagories:

  • the base word is capitalized: pro-African
  • numbers: post-1910, twenty-two
  • an abbreviation: pre-ABNA manuscript
  • more than one word: non-achievement-oriented students
  • All “self-” compounds whether they are adjectives or nouns such as self-report, self-esteem,  self-paced.

We hyphenate words that could be misunderstood if they’re unhyphenated:

  • re-pair (to pair again) as opposed to repair (to mend)
  • re-form  (to form again) as opposed to reform (to improve)

We hyphenate words in which the prefix ends and the base word begins with the same vowel:

  • metaanalysis, antiintellectual

But really, unless you are a technical writer, how often are we going to use these terms? Hence, the confusion when we DO use them.

Get It Write online dot com says, “One way to decide if a hyphen is necessary is to see if the phrase might be ambiguous without it. For example, “large-print paper” might be unclear written as “large print paper” because the reader might combine “print” and “paper” as a single idea rather than combining “large” and “print.” Another such example is “English-language learners.” Without the hyphen, a reader might think we are talking about English people who are learning any language rather than people who are learners of the English language.”

Write most words formed with prefixes and suffixes as one word with NO hyphen.

  • Prefixes: Afterglow, extracurricular, multiphase, socioeconomic
  • Suffixes: Arachnophobia, wavelike, angiogram

APPROACHING HELL © cjjasperson 2012 Lif In the Realm of FantasyHooray for Merriam-Webster! One can also look the word up in an online dictionary, to see the various different ways it can be combined. Just go to: http://www.merriam-webster.com

Now the real point of all this is that no matter how much I know when I am editing for another author, I always manage to screw up my own work amazingly well. It’s like my finger has a twitch that absolutely MUST add a hyphen. Thank god for good editors.


Credits:

Get It Write Online, Writing Tip Compound Words: When To Hyphenate © 2003, http://www.getitwriteonline.com/archive/042703compwdshyph.htm, accessed Feb 28, 2017

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#amwriting: em dash; en dash; hyphen

Book- onstruction-sign copyAn em dash (—)   is a versatile punctuation mark. It is the width of an ‘m’, hence the name. An em dash serves as a comma, does the same task as parentheses, and also does the work of the colon. Used in these situations, the em dash creates a slightly less formal effect and is a useful tool in the author’s arsenal.

To insert an em dash in a Word document: type two hyphens next to each other without any space between the words or hyphens:

  • A—B (LetterHyphenHyphenLetter) Once you hit the space key after the second word, the two hyphens will form an em dash.

They can be more emphatic than a comma, and will really set apart any clause bracketed by them. In dialogue, we don’t use semicolons to join short related independent clauses. Instead, we use em dashes. Used sparingly, and not in every paragraph, they can smooth a choppy conversation and make it more normal sounding.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to use them far too frequently, and in my hands, they lose their effectiveness. When combing a final ms for bloopers, I find them sprinkled through my work, maniacally creating run-on sentences where brevity would be a better choice.

The en dash (–) is the width of an ‘n’, hence the name. It denotes a span or range of numbers, dates, or time. Depending on the context, the en dash signifies “to” or “through.” When keying, type a space between the en dash and the adjacent material and then hit the spacebar.

To insert an en dash in a Word document: type a single hyphen between two words, with a space on either side of it:

  • 1994 – 1996 (1994SpaceHyphenSpace1996) Once you hit the space key after the second word, the hyphen will form an en dash.

Hyphens join certain compound words. Never use a hyphen in the place of an em dash or en dash.

Do not use a hyphen unless it serves a purpose. If a compound adjective is easily understood without a hyphen or its meaning is established, a hyphen is not necessary.

  • An English-speaking country
  • A time-saving device
  • A thirty-floor building

Some compounds are created on the spot to fulfill a specific need (on-the-spot creations). Permanent compounds began as improvised compounds but became so widely accepted they are now included in the dictionary as permanent compounds.

Examples of temporary compounds that have made the transition to permanent compounds are:

  • know-it-all
  • heart-stopping
  • free-for-all
  • down-at-the-heel

Context determines whether or not to hyphenate.  Ask yourself, “How will the words be interpreted by the reader if I don’t hyphenate?”

Wikipedia offers the following examples:

Man-eating shark (as opposed to man eating shark, which could be interpreted as a man eating the meat of a shark)

Wild-goose chase (as opposed to wild goose chase, which could be interpreted as a goose chase that is wild)

Long-term contract (as opposed to long term contract, which could be interpreted as a long contract about a term)

Zero-liability protection (as opposed to zero liability protection, which could be interpreted as there being no liability protection).

Overuse of em dashes and hyphens is a characteristic of lazy writing habits. We are in a hurry to get the story down, and we use the em dash to connect clauses that would be better if left to stand alone, and we hyphenate compound words that don’t require a hyphen.

I see these habits in my work and am forcing myself to be more creative. The em dash has a proper place in my work, but it can work its way into every paragraph. It is like an exclamation point. If I want my em dash to really emphasize a point, I have to only use it when nothing else will have the desired effect.

Only by seeing our work through a critical eye can we grow as authors. By writing every day and striving for growth, the quality of our work improves. Our beta readers will notice this growth and thank us for it.

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