Some punctuation rules are pretty clear. You know that a period belongs at the end of a sentence. Quotation marks go around direct quotes. Exclamation points, in general, don’t belong anywhere in your copy.
But hyphen rules are not so clear cut (or is it clear-cut?). It seems that everybody has their own in-house “rules” for hyphen use – and usually, those rules vary wildly from publication to publication. But what are the actual rules?
These are our proposed rules for everyone — world English change! I mean if you look at a lot of guides and some newspaper guidelines…they have pages upon pages of one-instance hyphen rules because things have gotten so complicated, and these things have just built up over time.
To The Wrtiers for Hire, the in-house hyphen rules change all that. They simplify things, and the rules are always the same. You can always apply them in any instance and I, personally, have never ever had to look up a hyphen as long as you follow them.
Here are the rules as we see them:
Rule 1: Hyphens are always used when two adjectives modify each other and NOT the noun.
Example (maybe not the best example, but you get the point):
She is a nice fat fish. No hyphen because you can take out the word “fat” and it still makes sense. That is, both words modify fish.
Don’t play the short-stick game with Fred. Use a hyphen because short is referring to the stick, not to the game, so short-stick is hyphenated.
Rule 2: We do not hyphenate adverb/adjective combinations. So you wouldn’t say, for example, “Go to the fully-stocked bar.”
Rule 3: If there are two instances in a document of a potential hyphenation, but one is used as a noun and the other as an adjective, you only hyphenate the adjective. You don’t need it for the noun.
Example: When I wanted to install the set-up software, I had a heck of a time with the set up!
See? Simple. Three rules to explain away every hyphen question you ever had. You never need an exception, ever. And if anyone can think of one, I would love to hear of it.
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