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The hype around hyphens

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

Make sense?

Basically, if you think a word should be hyphenated, just check if you’re using it to describe something. 

If you are, use a hyphen. If you’re not, leave it out.

Need help using hyphens? Let’s talk!


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