Hit-and-run Hyphenation Tips


Want to hyphenate like the pros? Here are some quick tips.

-- Ask yourself what part of speech you're trying to hyphenate.

-- If it's an existing noun (like water ski) or a verb (like water-ski), the only way to know whether it's hyphenated is to check a dictionary.

-- If the compound term is working as an adjective or adverb to modify a noun or verb, first check the dictionary. If it's not in there, you can assemble it yourself using a hyphen: grass-fed beef, car-crazed Los Angeles, hit-and-run tips. But if the term is just as clear without the hyphens, you can skip them.

-- If it's a prefix or suffix you're wondering about, remember this: There's no overarching rule to say whether a prefix or suffix should be hyphenated. So if you need to get it exactly right, you must consult a stylebook like the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook. But if you just want to do well and not perfectly, here's a great guideline: Don't hyphenate a prefix or suffix unless the term looks weird without a hyphen. So coauthor but anti-American, ex-president and pre-1960.

-- Remember that the reigning aesthetic in publishing now is to opt for fewer hyphens. So if you're torn between a "well-dressed man" and a "well dressed man," know that either way is okay, but the latter might be a wee bit better.


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