A quick lesson on hyphens
On May 4, 2015 | 2 Comments | Grammar tips, News & Events | Tags: ,

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).

I realize this kind of looks like a no-smoking sign, but you get the idea

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.


This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2015 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

Comments 2
barry schweiger Posted May 11, 2015 at7:13 pm   Reply

Maria -My first exposure to your very helpful blogging is via the createspace site. There I wished to leave a good and thankful comment, but wasn’t able to ( If you have any influence at createspace, might want to let them know to list how to leave comments, as is so easily performed on your good site here). Being self-published through them (The Secret Ways of Your Soul) your blog articles are extremely informative, useful, and I’ve a lot of reading to catch up with your past blogs. Thanks again for your efforts, knowledge, and time. Barry

Maria Murnane Posted May 11, 2015 at7:40 pm   Reply

Hi Barry, thanks for your nice note! I know it’s possible to leave comments on the CS site because I’ve seen them, but you probably have to be logged in to do so. I prefer that you leave them here anyway b/c I rarely check the comments on CS and can’t reply to them there like I can here. 🙂

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