Hyphens Editors Can't Agree On


Some rules were meant to be broken. But other rules can be a comfort. Sometimes you don’t want to decide for yourself whether a comma adds a certain je ne sais quoi to a sentence. You just want a simple rule to tell you whether to use one so you can focus on the actual content of your writing.

It doesn’t always go that way. Yes, there are some very clear rules in the punctuation world. But just outside their borders is a punctuation no-man’s land where rules can be murky or even nonexistent.

When I wrote my punctuation book, I wanted to offer some help in these areas, so I did the whole fools-rush-in thing, looking at areas where there were no clear rules. But instead of offering my own opinions, I asked some working editors how they would punctuate certain sentences. Sometimes, they all agreed. Other times, they didn’t. Here are some notable matters on which they split.

Commas around too, either, and also:

I like it, too. / I like it too.

I too saw that movie./ I, too, saw that movie.

I didn’t see that movie, either./ I didn’t see that movie either.

He wrote “Love Story,” also. / He wrote “Love Story” also.


Comma after a title of work that includes an exclamation point or question mark.

Shows playing this week include “Greg London: Impressions that Rock!,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” and “Jersey Boys.”  /  Shows playing this week include “Greg London: Impressions that Rock!” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Jersey Boys.” 


Possessive apostrophe inside quote marks designating a title of a work. 

“Casablanca’s” best scene / “Casablanca”’s best scene


Hyphen in compound adjective after a linking verb. This is an interesting one, because AP style talks specifically about hyphens in compounds after the verb “be.” “This dessert is guilt-free,” the guide says, should probably be hyphenated. But there’s no discussion of any other linking verbs like seem, appear, taste, etc. No surprise, then, that editors split.

This dessert seems guilt-free./ This dessert seems guilt free.

The target looks bullet-riddled. / The target looks bullet riddled.

This meat tastes hickory-smoked. / This meat tastes hickory smoked.

He feels honor-bound. / He feels honor bound.

She appears quick-thinking. / She appears quick thinking.



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