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  • Grammergency #27: A Hyphenation How-to, Part Two
Grammergency #27: A Hyphenation How-to, Part Two
Written by
Annie Tucker
December 2015
Written by
Annie Tucker
December 2015

Welcome to the second installment of our two-part hyphenation discussion. Part one focused on how to use hyphens correctly, per The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS); today, you’ll learn about five instances in which hyphens do not apply.


1) In compound modifiers in which the first word ends in “-ly”

To reiterate part one, a compound modifier (or phrasal adjective) is composed of two or more words used adjectivally to modify a noun. Two-word compounds like this are typically hyphenated before the noun (e.g., “well-read person”)—except when the first of those two words is an adverb ending in “-ly,” e.g., “exponentially better outcome,” “environmentally friendly practice,” and “beautifully written book.” In these and other, similar cases, the hyphen simply isn’t necessary for clarity, the way it often is in compounds that do not begin with “-ly” words.


2) In verbal phrases that end with a proposition

Kids play “dress-up,” commitments require “follow-through,” and problems need a “work-around,” but the hyphens in all of these cases appear only because these are noun phrases. When the same phrases are used verbally, the hyphens go away; instead, you “dress up” for a nice dinner, you “follow through” on your commitments, and you find a way to “work around” obstacles.


3) In most parts of speech that begin with a prefix

Despite the prevalence of hyphens that continue to appear in this context in today’s writing, virtually any prefix you can think of (including “non-,” “pre-,” “post-,” “sub-,” “over-,” “under-,” and many more) should rarely be separated by a hyphen from the word to which it’s attached. Examples of this closed format include “nonnegotiable,” “preparty,” “postdoctoral,” “subcutaneous,” “overexposed,” and “underfunded.” For much more information on this subject, see Merriam-Webster and the CMS hyphenation guide (section 7.85).


4) In compound nationalities and geographical terms

This issue has been the subject of much debate, but the style convention is to treat mixed nationalities as open compounds (e.g., “African American,” “Korean American,” “Middle Eastern,” “French Canadian,” and so forth) unless the first term of the compound is a prefix (e.g., “Anglo-Saxon”).


5) In times of day

Although “six-thirty,” “eight-fifteen,” and other cases riddle book manuscripts, a hyphen in times of day in quarter hours is incorrect—except in the phrase “forty-five,” as in “it’s four forty-five.” Otherwise, keep times open as “six thirty,” “eight fifteen,” etc.


Have a grammar question? Leave it in the comments below.

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