Adjectives modify nouns or pronouns. (What a pretty house! She is tall!)
Adverbs modify verbs (She types quickly), adjectives (She is extremely tall) or other adverbs (Please type more quickly).
When an adverb modifies an adjective (e.g. “she is extremely tall,” no hyphen is necessary. I see many authors make this error in their book descriptions and personal bios. For example:
- The world in this story is inhabited by fully-functional robots that act like humans (INCORRECT)
- The tale takes place on a currently-active landfill (INCORRECT)
- When he’s not writing books, John works as a highly-trained specialist managing labor disputes (INCORRECT)
A good way to tell that a hyphen isn’t necessary is to remove the adjective and leave the adverb, then see if the sentence still makes sense. For example, do these sound correct to you?
- This world in this story is inhabited by fully robots that act like humans (SOUNDS SUPER WEIRD)
- The tale takes place on a currently landfill (SOUNDS SUPER WEIRD)
- When he’s not writing books, John works as a highly specialist managing labor disputes (SOUNDS SUPER WEIRD)
The above sentences don’t make sense because once we remove the adjectives “functional,” “active” and “trained,” the adverbs “fully,” “currently”and “highly” aren’t modifying anything.
Note: when two words are used to modify (or relate to) the same word in what is called compound modifier, a hyphen clarifies that they are both referring to that word and not to each other. For example:
- He is a small business owner (This means he is a small man)
- He is a small-business owner (This means he owns a small business)
I know grammar terminology is a foreign language to many people, so if you’re still confused about whether or not to use a hyphen when you have an adverb followed by an adjective, try removing the adjective. If the sentence doesn’t work without it, no hyphen is necessary.
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