29 August 2013

Rules for hyphenation

The phrase "screw fastened shoes" reminded me of a column in the Columbia Journalism Review regarding hyphenation:
The “rules” under which hyphens are used to connect multiple modifiers, like “well(-)known man,” are varied and difficult to remember. Some style guides try to avoid hyphens except when their absence would create confusion: Don’t hyphenate “local business owner,” for example, but do hyphenate “small-business owner,” since it could be read that either the business or the owner is small. Others suggest hyphenating most of these compound modifiers for consistency: “mental-health officials.” For our man of renown, some style guides call for a “well-known man” before the noun, but “as a man, he is well known,” with the compound following the noun...

Part of the reasoning for not using a hyphen after “-ly” adverbs is that, appearing before a verb as it does, an “-ly” adverb is obviously attached to it, so no confusion is possible... As Chicago notes, “not every word ending in -ly is an adverb—some are adjectives (e.g., lovely, curly).” Those might take hyphens in compounds to avoid confusion: “The curly-haired girl” means the girl’s hair is curly, not the girl herself... But there are times when a “ly” adverb does need a hyphen. As Chicago notes, the adverb in “a sharply worded reprimand” does not take a hyphen, but the one in “a not-so-sharply-worded reprimand” does. The adverb itself isn’t taking a hyphen, but the whole phrase “not-so-sharply-worded” is a gigantic adjective.
I think screw fastened shoes should be hyphenated.


  1. I dunno... I read that post exactly because I read the word "screw" as the verb.

    1. Haha. I would have read it anyway but the phrasing definitely caught my attention.

  2. I agree with you, Minnesota Stan. Recently I have seen words that should be hyphenated written separately. It drives me nuts. The same with the dropping of parts of irregular verbs. I cannot say, The moon shined over the land." The moon shone.


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