Monday, October 04, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Compounds and Hyphens

Hyphens and deciding when to hyphenate words are things that confuse me to this day. There's a lot to hyphenation rules, and all different kinds of them. To break it down to easier to understand parts, I wanted to take a look at hyphenating compounds. The first place to look to decide whether or not to hyphenate a word is the dictionary. But after that, here are some things to consider:

i. Readability
Hyphens are used to show structure and pronunciation to enhance readability and comprehension. Hyphens can help out with words that may otherwise be misread; for example, you would want to re-press your shirt, not repress it. And to eliminate ambiguity: decision making is understandable enough, but fast decision-making shows that you are making decisions and not just quick judgements. Something like graduate student housing is not ambiguous, but it is still perfectly acceptable to hyphenate.

ii. Compound Modifiers
When compound modifiers (like well-lit or open-mouthed) precede a noun, hyphenation makes for easier reading and comprehension. When they follow a noun, hyphens are generally not needed (although that is not always the case). The Chicago Manual of Style offers a hyphenation guide for more specifics.

iii. Multiple Hyphens
Standard multiple hyphen phrases like matter-of-fact approach and over-the-counter drug are often written with two hyphens. Other phrases have no real general consensus, but consistency should be maintained throughout a piece. Therefore, early nineteenth-century music or early-nineteenth-century music are both acceptable. The use of one hyphen versus two does not make a difference in the understanding of the phrase.

No comments:

Post a Comment