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Hyphenating Between Words

Many of us get confused about when to hyphenate between words. For example, should you write nearly-extinct wolves or nearly extinct wolves?

Adverbs ending in -ly should not be hyphenated.

In most cases it is compound adjectives–adjectives that act as one idea with other adjectives–that get hyphenated in front of nouns.

Example: The crowd threw out the barely edible cake.
The word barely is an -ly adverb answering how edible the cake was.

Example: It’s a lovely-looking home.
The word lovely is an -ly adjective, because we could say a lovely home.

Example: We live in a two-story building.
The word two in this sentence is an adjective working together with story to describe the noun building. Therefore, two-story is a compound adjective requiring a hyphen.

Example: The announcer offered a blow-by-blow description of the boxers’ punches.
Blow-by-blow is acting as one idea. Therefore, it is a compound adjective.

Example: Our building is two stories.
Often when the description follows the noun, it is not necessary to hyphenate it.

To learn more about hyphens, click here.

Click here to try a free quiz on hyphens.

Posted on Tuesday, August 17, 2010, at 1:47 pm


43 Comments

43 Responses to “Hyphenating Between Words”

  1. Sapta-Lucknow, India says:

    Storey not story. Right?

  2. Lance says:

    I want to have this phrase deconstructed according to the rules.
    “Honda Certified Used Car”
    I believe the word “Honda” is a proper noun.
    I believe the word “certified” is a past participle or adjective modifying the noun “car.”
    Thus, I believe the meaning of the phrase can otherwise be expressed as a “used car certified by Honda.”
    Is this correct?

    • Jane says:

      I believe you are correct in interpreting the meaning of the phrase. Advertising often takes liberties with proper grammar and punctuation. By strict interpretation of the rules, I would write this as “Honda-certified, used car.” (Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea; use a comma between two adjectives when you could have used and between them.)

  3. Helen says:

    Is “above-referenced” hyphenated?

    • Jane says:

      Yes. Rule 4 of our Hyphens section says, “Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea.” Above-referenced” is a phrasal adjective (also called a compound modifier) that describes the noun matter.

  4. Teri says:

    Is “home buyers,” as in “first-time homebuyers,” one word or two? Online it says that it is one word, but spell check gives me an error message. Thoughts?

    • Jane says:

      As I mention in Rule 1 of Hyphens, “To check whether a compound noun is two words, one word, or hyphenated, you may need to look it up in the dictionary.” You did look it up online, probably on dictionary.com, which is a valid resource and I looked it up in a couple different hard copy dictionaries. I find that it has been considered one word at least since the 1990s. Do not rely solely on spellcheck or grammarcheck programs as they tend to contain errors.

  5. Thomas says:

    I am having trouble trying to settle a disagreement about a grammar
    problem.
    The sentence I was given had five consecutive cases of the word ‘and’ in it.

    This sentence is referring to a mistake in a pub name (The Cat-and-Dog)

    I wanted a space between Cat and and, and, and and Dog.
    I say it should be written like this:
    I wanted a space between ‘Cat’ and ‘And’, and, ‘And’ and ‘Dog’.

    Can you possibly solve this little dilemma?

    • Jane says:

      Your question, whether a serious one or not, is clever. We do know that pub names are often of the form “The noun1 and noun2.” I don’t think that I’ve ever heard of one that was hyphenated, so I agree with you that it was likely a mistake. Now, how do we explain that in words? The not so fun way, but a clear way, to do it would be to use italics and say (I am going to assume the word and in the name is not capitalized):

      I wanted spaces, not hyphens, between the word Cat and the word and and between the word and and the word Dog.

      But it really would be more fun to have a sentence with five consecutive occurrences of the word and. Again, we can use italics to help us out. While probably not so easy to understand, grammatically, this sentence is correct:

      I wanted a space between Cat and and and and and Dog.

  6. Josh says:

    Hi, Jane.

    Here’s something I always wanted to know about hyphenation but was never able to find out. (If I ever learned it, I don’t recall).

    Anyway, if you were take a phrase like “United States economy” or “Middle East crisis,” would the geographical-location terms be hyphenated because of the fact that the geographical part is made up of two words?

    Thanks, and have a good day.

    • Jane says:

      Our Rule 4 of Hyphens says, “Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea.” Geographical proper names that are two words such as United States and Middle East would be considered a single adjective, therefore, they should not be hyphenated.

  7. Shannon says:

    The rule for hyphenating one-storey is understood, but please clarify if the hyphen is applicable when describing one or more hyphens…which is corrent: Option #1) “the home is surrounded by one- and two-storey buildings.”
    or OPTION #2) “the home is surrounded by one and two-storey buildings.”

  8. Shannon says:

    Just to clarify the above comment…my question is which option is correct, Option 1 or Option 2…(i.e. when is the hyphen NOT applicable when describing two or more words that normally would have a hyphen in between…aka one-storey, two storey…

    • Jane says:

      The Chicago Manual of Style’s rule 7.84 says, “When the second part of a hyphenated expression is omitted, the hyphen is retained, followed by a space.

      fifteen- and twenty-year mortgages
      Chicago- or Milwaukee-bound passengers
      but
      a five-by-eight-foot rug (a single entity)”

      Therefore, write “The home is surrounded by one- and two-story buildings.” (The American English spelling is story.)

  9. Carol F. says:

    In your hyphen rules, you have omitted the basic rule about adverb-adjective combinations. Example: The fully loaded pen, his fully edited copy. Unless I am completely crazy, hyphens in these combinations are incorrect. Please let me know.

    • Jane says:

      Rules 4 and 5 cover this area. Your examples are comparable to the final example under Rule 4, brightly lit room. In your examples, fully is an adverb describing loaded and edited, therefore no hyphen is used.

  10. rebecca says:

    Hi Jane,
    Should I use hypens in the following phrase?
    “This premium-grade honey is made using cold-extraction methods.”
    Any advice you could give would be most appreciated.

    • Jane says:

      Our Rule 4 of Hyphens states, “Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea.” Your sentence is correct as written.

  11. Laurel M. says:

    Your rule on hyphens number 4 has an example of ‘friendly-looking man’. One does not hyphenate words ending in –ly. That’s a pretty standard rule, and I’m surprised to see this error on a website about correct grammar and use of English.

    • Jane says:

      Your statement that “One does not hyphenate words ending in -ly” is a nice, concise, confidently stated, nonexistent rule. What is true is that adverbs ending in -ly are not hyphenated. More often than not, words ending in -ly are adverbs, but not always. The phrase friendly-looking man is hyphenated because friendly is an adjective.

      Adverbs answer the questions how, where, or when. The word friendly is not answering how, where, or when the man is looking with his eyes. Therefore, friendly-looking is a compound adjective.

      This is a tricky one and I hope this helps.

  12. Laurel Mackinnon says:

    Your rule on hyphens number 4 has an example of ‘friendly-looking man’. One does not hyphenate words ending in –ly. That’s a pretty standard rule, and I’m surprised to see this error on a website about correct grammar and use of English.

    • Jane says:

      Your statement that “One does not hyphenate words ending in -ly” is a nice, concise, nonexistent rule. What is true is that adverbs ending in -ly are not hyphenated. More often than not, words ending in -ly are adverbs, but not always. The phrase friendly-looking man is hyphenated because friendly is an adjective.

      Adverbs answer the questions how, where, or when. The word friendly is not answering how, where, or when the man is looking with his eyes. Therefore, friendly-looking is a compound adjective.

  13. Brenda says:

    I agree that you shouldn’t join adverbs to adjectives with a hyphen. But a storey in a building is spelled with an e (a two-storey building).

  14. Niraj says:

    Can we hyphen three words consecutively in a sentence?
    I want to know about this phrase: “private enterprise friendly policies”. It refers to policies that are friendly towards private enterprises. You can’t write Private enterprise-friendly as that would mean enterprise-friendly policies that are private; you can’t separate private and enterprise like that. Can you write “private-enterprise-friendly policies”?

    • Jane says:

      Yes, private-enterprise-friendly policies is correct. Of course, you may also write out policies that are friendly toward private enterprise.

  15. Sheila says:

    Do we write hearing-impaired OR hearing impaired?

    • Jane says:

      Our Rule 4 of Hyphens says, “Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea.”

      Examples: Sam’s brother is a hearing-impaired person. But Sam’s brother is hearing impaired.

  16. Gary says:

    I was hoping you would explain to me how the rules for hyphens would apply when using the term “my not so private life” as the subject of an email.
    “my not so private life” = me writing a journal entry or email that reveals secrets many, if not most, people would keep to themselves

    Thank you very much!

    • Jane says:

      The term not-so-private is a phrasal adjective (also called a compound modifier) that functions as a unit to modify the noun life. Therefore, our Rule 4 of Hyphens, “Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea,” applies here. Write “my not-so-private life.”

  17. Billy says:

    Is in-front and in front means the same thing?

    Thanks.

    • Jane says:

      In front is a prepositional phrase and does not require a hyphen. Examples:

      He was standing in front of the store.
      A 1956 car was in front of us on the road.

  18. trevor says:

    I came across a message someone left on a post I read, and it didn’t seem like it was written correctly.

    “I get anger goosebumps every time I see bad grammar and atrocious spelling!”

    “anger goosebumps” seems like it could use a hyphen, but after reading the rules, I’m not so sure now.

    What do you think?

  19. Ted Estrada says:

    Have I written this sentence correctly: I am a seventy-six years old U.S.-born Latino.

    • Jane says:

      Seventy-six-year-old is a compound adjective and does not require an s. Also note the need for a second hyphen, after year. The term “U.S.-born” would probably be more commonly phrased “born in the U.S.”

      I am a seventy-six-year-old Latino born in the U.S.

  20. Nicole Ballard says:

    I’m about to print my wedding rsvp cards. I have a section that says, “Other wedding related information can be found on our website.” Is there supposed to be a hyphen between wedding and related? Wedding-related or wedding related? What is correct?

  21. PJ says:

    I am confused with when to use hyphen for seantences with the following:

    sea-level rise
    sea level rise

    Thanks

    • When sea level is used as a noun phrase, do not hyphenate. Hyphenate sea-level when it is used as a modifier. Examples:

      Global sea level rose over the past century.
      What causes sea-level rise?

  22. Ellen H. says:

    What is the “proper” way to spell log book? As 2 words or 1 or hypen.

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