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Grammar Tips & Tidbits

 

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One Word or Two? Part II

 

It's time to reveal the second and third rules of thumb for determining whether a phrase should be one or two words. I know you're on the edge of your seat with anticipation! If you missed Rule #1 in last week's tip, you can view it here.

Rule #2:
If the words in question make up a verb phrase, they will typically remain as two words without a hyphen. You can often identify a verb phrase by asking yourself whether the words indicate that someone (or something) is performing an action.

Rule #3:
The same words that make up verb phrases are often used to form compound nouns, which can be spelled in an assortment of ways: as one word, as one word with a hyphen, or as two separate words. There's just no way of getting around it―you'll have to break out your dictionary in these cases. Here's a quick tip for identifying compound nouns: if you can place the word the before the word/phrase and it still retains the same meaning, it's usually a compound noun. You'll find more information about compound nouns in this back issue of the Grammar Tips & Tidbits Archive.

Examples: (CN = Compound Noun; VP = Verb Phrase)
 

●   CN: We had a breakdown on the highway.
●   VP:    If our vehicles break down, we'll call a taxi.
   
●   CN: The flight attendant just announced that it's time for takeoff.
●   VP:    I love to watch airplanes take off and land at the airport.
   
●   CN: We perform regular backups every Friday evening.
●   VP:    Don't forget to back up your data on a regular basis.
   
●   CN: No one ever expects to become a high school dropout.
●   VP:    I hope he doesn't drop out of high school.
   
●   CN: There is a city-wide cleanup scheduled for next weekend.
●   VP:    They will need many volunteers to clean up the city.
   
●   CN: We will complete a thorough follow-up with the patients.
●   VP:    We will follow up with the patients after the study.
   

Can you see the difference between the compound nouns and the verb phrases? It all boils down to whether the words represent a person/place/thing/idea (noun) or an action (verb). Of course, these are just general rules, but they will point you in the right direction. Remember, when you look up these words in the dictionary, pay close attention to their parts of speech when determining how to spell them.

The next issue of Grammar Tips & Tidbits features a quiz on hyphens to test the skills you've recently acquired. You can take the quiz here.

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Source:

1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. Tenth Edition.
         New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005, pp. 214-239.