People often call on me to help them out with spelling, particularly whether two words should be hyphenated. My response is always: “What’s the context of the sentence?”
When they ask why it matters, I start explaining about compound adjectives…and then I see their eyes glaze over!
What’s a compound adjective?
Compound adjectives are hyphenated words used to describe something. For example: If I travel with you in first class, will you buy me a first-class ticket? (First class is hyphenated in the second instance because it’s describing the ticket).
The exception to the rule is if the adjective ends in ‘-ly’ e.g. Newly cleaned car. That's because the 'ly' already acts as a hyphen.
Here are some more examples of when to use a hyphen:
12-week period but for 12 weeks
Up-to-date knowledge but Keep up to date
Long-term plan but in the long term
You would say father-of-two Jim Smith but Jim Smith is a father of two
Likewise, 25-year-old Jim Smith but Jim Smith is 25 years old
Need help using hyphens? Let’s talk!