Blog  /  07.11.2023

The Writers’ Block: A Hyphen How-To

Compound modifiers

1. The “three or more” rule

When modifying a noun with three or more words, string them together with hyphens.

  • Easy-to-read article
  • Fill-in-the-blank questions

2. Compound modifiers that follow a noun

With compound modifiers that follow a noun, a hyphen is not needed because the relationship between the noun and compound modifier is already clear.

  • The strawberries were chocolate covered

3. Compound nouns that require hyphens

Some nouns use several simple words to express an idea, and if not joined by hyphens, may result in a confused reader.

  • Ten-year-old
  • Merry-go-round

4. Compound nouns that don’t require hyphens

With these types of compound nouns, there’s no room for reader confusion when hyphens aren’t present.

  • Chocolate chip cookie (not chocolate-chip cookie)
  • Senior account executive (not senior-account executive)

When using a compound noun as an adjective, a hyphen is required if the idea uses a noun and a participle.

  • Cutting-edge technology (cutting = participle, edge = noun)

5. Compound verbs

When a verb requires a two word modifier to be expressed, you may need to hyphenate it depending on the context and position in the sentence.

  • Second-guess your answer
  • Dry-clean that shirt
  • Break away from the pack (words are separated; no hyphen needed)
  • Kickstart your career (words are joined; no hyphen needed)

The very/-ly adverb rule

DO NOT add a hyphen between an adverb and the word very or any word that ends in –ly. These types of compound ideas should always be hyphen free, no matter if they precede or succeed the noun.

  • A highly qualified candidate (the candidate was highly qualified)
  • A carefully arranged table (the table was carefully arranged)

Even though we only touched on a few, there are so many rules around hyphens. But always be sure to watch out for crowded copy. Add in too many hyphens, and your reader may struggle to see your point through all the hyphen clutter.

For more interesting and practical advice when it comes to your business communications, contact FOVNDRY. From media-training workshops to fully integrated campaigns, we’re here to help with all your PR and marketing needs.

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