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.
When we refer to a twelve-year-old boy, the hyphens follow the rule for one-thought adjectives. No hyphens are used when the phrase is positioned differently. “The boy is twelve years old.” The hyphens are used when we make the phrase a noun:
“He is a typical twelve-year-old boy.”
I came across a tip the other day which you may find interesting.
Incorrect:300 – 325 people (space used)
Correct: 300-325 people (no space used)
GENERAL USE OF HYPENS BETWEEN WORDS
Generally, hyphenate two or more words when they come before a noun they modify and act as a single idea. This is called a compound adjective.
an off-campus apartment
When a compound adjective follows a noun, a hyphen may or may not be necessary.
Example: The apartment is off campus.
However, some established compound adjectives are always hyphenated. Double-check with a dictionary or online.
Example: The design is state-of-the-art.
Compound adjectives are made up of a noun + an adjective; a noun + a participle; or an adjective + participle. Many compound adjectives should be hyphenated. Here are some examples:
Noun + adjective Noun + participle Adjective + participle
accident-prone computer-aided good-looking
sugar-free power-driven quick-thinking
With compound adjectives formed from the adverb ‘well’ and a participle (e.g. well-known), or from a phrase (e.g. up-to-date), you should use a hyphen when the compound comes before the noun: well-known brands of coffee; an up-to-date account. But not when the compound comes after the noun: His music was well known in England. Their figures are up to date.
Side-by-side vs. side by side.
Because I was using the above phrase in my latest book ‘Where Lies My Heart’ I found a useful definition online.
Hyphenate as an adjective. She purchased a side-by-side washer and dryer.
Do not hyphenate as an adverb. They were walking side by side.
Do not hyphenate adverbs ending in ‘ly’.
I doubt if I’ll get everything right, but the rules above have certainly helped me.