Grammar Rule #6: Hyphens harness compound adjectives to function as a unit.
1. In the context of this rule, compound adjectives are often referred to as phrasal adjectives. Phrasal refers to the fact that two or more adjectives are functioning as a unit instead of as independent words. The hyphen clarifies this unity.
Fido is a well fed dog. (He’s fed and healthy—two independent descriptions.)
Fido is a well-fed dog. (He gets plenty of food—one description.)
Johnny is a pink skinned baby. (He’s a skinned baby, poor thing, that is pink—two independent descriptions.)
Johnny is a pink-skinned baby. (His skin is pink rather than another color—one description.)
2. Hyphens are used with phrasal adjectives positioned in front of the noun. Phrasal adjectives positioned after the noun, however, usually don’t require hyphens to clarify that they are a unit.
Fido is a dog that is well fed.
Johnny is a baby that is pink skinned.
3. Two exceptions (of course):
- A phrasal adjective that begins with an adverb ending in “ly” is not hyphenated because the adverb supplies clarity.
Example: a softly spoken word
However, if more words are added to the phrase, hyphens are needed to identify the phrase as a unit.
Example: a not-so-softly-spoken word
- A phrasal adjective that begins with a proper name is not hyphenated because the proper name supplies clarity.
Example: the West Point reunion
TOMORROW: Numbers in phrasal adjectives.
Grammar Challenge: Your Turn! Which words need hyphens?
1. Sam prefers freeze dried coffee to Starbucks. Ick.
2. I have a dark haired daughter and another who is red headed.
3. He owns three frequently mowed lots.
4. Her never clearly enunciated words were hard to understand.
5. The well dressed salesman was successful.
6. We attended our nephew's Kinder Care graduation.
7. Jane works at a video game store to pay off her house that is not debt free.
(Answers are below.)
HYPHEN RULES RUN MONDAY THROUGH SATURDAY THIS WEEK.
1. Sam prefers freeze-dried coffee to Starbucks. Ick.
2. I have a dark-haired daughter and another who is red headed.
3. He owns three frequently mowed lots. (no hyphens)
4. Her never-clearly-enunciated words were hard to understand.
5. The well-dressed salesman was successful.
6. We attended our nephew's Kinder Care graduation. (no hyphens)
7. Jane works at a video-game store to pay off her house that is not debt free.
How did you do? Any questions?