A refresher on hyphenation

Maria Murnane

Maria Murnane

Best-selling Author of the Waverly Bryson Series, and 2015 International Book Award Winner

Hyphens are used to avoid ambiguity when two descriptive words are next to each other before a noun. (They are also used for compound words such as self-esteem.)

For example, take the following sentence:

The small business owner got a great loan from the bank.

Is the business owner a small person? Or does the person own a small business? Most likely it’s the latter, but without a hyphen it’s unclear, which is why a hyphen is necessary in this case.

The small-business owner got a great loan from the bank. (CORRECT)

The small business owner got a great loan from the bank. (INCORRECT)

Here’s another example:

The hard charging executive took a vacation.

Is the executive hard? Or does the executive charge hard? Most likely it’s the latter, but again without a hyphen it’s unclear, which is why a hyphen is also necessary in this case.

  • The hard-charging executive took a vacation. (CORRECT)
  • The hard charging executive took a vacation. (INCORRECT)

Where I often see hyphens being used incorrectly is when an adverb is next to a descriptive word before a noun. Adverbs (usually words ending in ly) modify only verbs or adjectives and not nouns, so there is no need for a hyphen.

For example:

  • The highly regarded professor gave a lecture. (CORRECT)
  • The highly-regarded professor gave a lecture. (INCORRECT)
  • The newly hired caterer got straight to work. (CORRECT)
  • The newly-hired caterer got straight to work. (INCORRECT)
  • The recently promoted director took the corner office. (CORRECT)
  • The recently-promoted director took the corner office. (INCORRECT)

If the above examples have you squinting at your screen in puzzlement, try taking away the descriptive word in each sentence:

  • The highly professor gave a lecture. (MAKES NO SENSE)
  • The newly caterer got straight to work. (MAKES NO SENSE)
  • The recently director took the corner office. (MAKES NO SENSE)

Got it? If there’s no ambiguity about what a word is modifying, then there’s no need for a hyphen.

-Maria

 

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2018 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

Nail that elevator pitch
If you’re an aspiring author, get ready to hear the following question approximately 10 billion times: “What’s your book about?” As you already know if you’ve already written a book, pretty much everyone and anyone in your life will ask you that question, from people you know well to people you just met in the waiting room at your dentist’s off...
Read More
Ask your fans to help spread the word
If you're like most authors, promoting your work doesn't come naturally to you. The same goes for the vast majority of your readers. They may love your book, but it would never occur to them to actively spread the word about it. And even if they want to help, they probably don't know how. That's why marketing is so hard! One way to encourage yo...
Read More
Don't make this marketing mistake
I once received an email newsletter from an indie author in which he essentially begged for people to review his book on Amazon. I empathized with him because I know how difficult it can be to get reviews, especially for self-published books. But then the author did something that made my jaw drop, and not in a good way. In his plea he encourage...
Read More
Be proactive about giving away books to your target audience
I recently attended a good friend's wedding in Oregon. There were several events over the few days I was there, which gave me a chance to get to know some of the other guests. The bride is a big fan of my novels and has been vocal about them to her network, so many of the women I met had already read my books. Others had not but said they were e...
Read More
"To lay" vs. "to lie"
I love yoga. I love my yoga teachers too. They are kind, positive, nurturing people who strive to make their students feel good inside and out. They aren't always so great at grammar. In nearly every class, at some point the teacher will gently say "Now lay on your backs." While I love this part because it means class is winding down, I always ...
Read More
New Year's book marketing resolution
It's that time of year again, the beginning! Why not start yours by making the following resolution? In 2019 I will do (at least) one thing every day to promote my writing. I realize that marketing is a foreign language to many authors, and even those who are familiar with it don't usually enjoy it. But if you want people who aren't your friend...
Read More
Are you making this marketing mistake?
A couple years after my first novel was released, I noticed a title on Amazon with the same name. I read that book’s description and realized it was also in the same vein as mine, which had been featured on the front page of the Life section of USA Today and also (briefly!) reached No. 2 overall on Amazon. In other words, it was not hidden under...
Read More
Is it ITS or IT'S?
ITS vs. IT’S is tricky because the way to use ITS goes against everything we're taught about possession. Here's a quick explanation that I hope will clear up the confusion: When something belongs to someone or something (possession), we normally use an apostrophe: This book belongs to Gloria This is Gloria's book I enjoy reading blog posts wri...
Read More
Be careful when asking others to promote your book
Word-of-mouth is a powerful force, and there’s nothing wrong with encouraging your fans to tell their friends about your book. The key word here is fans. It’s clear that a person is a fan of your book if she writes a favorable review on her blog, if he sends you an email telling you he enjoyed it, if she signs up for your newsletter, etc. In tho...
Read More
What is a blog tour?
A blog tour, also sometimes called a virtual book tour, is when a number of book blogs post a review of a title during a set period of time, for example a couple weeks or a month, usually right around when the book launches. As with a traditional book tour, the goal of a virtual one is to create “buzz” by reaching avid readers (i.e. potential cu...
Read More