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Grammar Tips & Tidbits


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To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate? Part II

Last week we discussed hyphen placement in compound nouns. The rules on this topic are quite extensive, so this week we'll focus on some additional guidelines for hyphen usage. According to The Gregg Reference Manual, the following word types are typically hyphenated:¹

Words with repeated or rhyming syllables.

goody-goody, nitty-gritty, hocus-pocus (exception: fender bender)

Compound nouns that end with a prepositional phrase.
brother-in-law, stay-at-home, right-of-way (exception: line of credit)

Two nouns indicating that one person or thing has two functions.
editor-publisher, owner-manager, actor-director, photocopier-printer

Compound nouns that begin with a single letter.
T-shirt, U-turn, A-frame, X-ray (exceptions: T square, I beam)

Compound adjectives when they occur before a noun.
a well-known author, a money-back guarantee, a low-cost vehicle

Compound adjectives joined by and or to when used before a noun.
a mom-and-pop store, a face-to-face confrontation

Words with exaggerated pronunciations.
That's so-o-o-o-o great!  No-o-o-o-o-o way!

Capitalized words with a prefix.
un-American, mid-March, post-Vietnam War period

The rules for using hyphens go on forever, but I'll stop before we all get too confused! As mentioned in the previous tip, be sure to consult a current dictionary when you're in doubt about hyphen placement. Even then, take time to verify that the part of speech matches the one listed in the dictionary. Hyphens may look pretty small and insignificant, but they sure are tricky!

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1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. Tenth Edition.
         New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005, pp. 220-221.