To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate?

Montreal Syllabus TranslationIt’s hard to know when to pull out that little dash of ink known as the hyphen. The Chicago Manual of Style offers a mountain of advice on when and when not to employ the punctuation mark, even dictionaries provide guidance on individual words, but, for the average writer, here’s a quicker and easier solution.

Think consistency: Come up with a logical rule that you can apply throughout your text. For instance, make it easy on yourself and hyphenate all compound modifiers that come before a noun, like three-hour drive, well-read man, or blue-green algae.

Think comprehension: In my opinion, ensuring comprehension is the No. 1 reason to hyphenate. I recently stumbled upon a sign that said: “Stay on Trail. Cave in Area.” After hunting for said cave, it dawned on me that there was, in fact, no cave in the area. The trail, twisting up and over an old mining site, was the safest way to traverse the area prone to caving in, otherwise known as a cave-in area. Had I only been carrying a Jiffy Marker—I would have happily added that hyphen to prevent future hikers from wasting their afternoon.

Ever had punctuation send you down the wrong path? Let us know!

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