Category Archives: writing

Hyphenation 101: Hyphenating Compound Words

Let’s continue with our subject of the uses of hyphenation in spelling and begin with this definition from Anne Stilman:

A compound consists of two or more words that express a single concept. A compound word may act as a noun, a verb or an adjective, or even all three.

There are a few different types of compounds:

TYPE DEFINITION EXAMPLE
Open compounds Words written separately with a space between them time frame
Closed compounds Words run together with no space separating them crossbreed
Hyphenated compounds Words linked with a hyphen hand-feed

Would that there were predictable rules governing the compounding of words; there aren’t. This means you need a good dictionary to check the proper compounding of words. (I use Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.)

Note also that language changes constantly. Words often begin as hyphenated compounds and then eventually drop the hyphen, becoming closed. (For example, over the past twenty years, e-mail has become email.)

Compound Nouns

Stilman states, “Compound nouns that comprise more than two words, such as idioms and phrases, usually take hyphens.” For example: He’s a Johnny-come-lately. Check a dictionary or a reliable list of idioms.

If a word is compounded with a single letter, it is either open or hyphenated (not closed): A-frame, B picture, T square, H-bomb, V neck.

Some compound nouns can be closed or hyphenated, such as carry-over/carryover, short-list/shortlist. Again, check the dictionary.

Compound Adjectives

When you use more than one adjective to modify a noun, sometimes they must be linked with a hyphen to ensure clarity. For example, there’s a difference in the meaning of these sentences:

  • Seven week old kittens mewled in the cardboard box. (One or more of the adjectives must be hyphenated to make the meaning clear.)
  • Seven weekold kittens mewled in the cardboard box. (Seven kittens, all one week old, are mewling in the box.)
  • Sevenweekold kittens mewled in the cardboard box. (An indeterminate number of kittens, all seven weeks old, are mewling.)

Compounding adjectives deserves a post of its own, so subscribe and check back later for another lively discussion.

Compound Verbs

Compound verbs are usually open but are sometimes closed or hyphenated. Often, a closed noun compound becomes open when used as a verb compound. For example:

  • She experienced a breakthrough. (closed compound noun)
  • She wanted to break through her crippling grief. (open compound verb)

Some hyphenated compound nouns become open when used as verbs, for example, show-off/show off.

When verbs are compounded, it is often between the verb and some kind of direction word: back-check, stick up, break down, make up. When verbs are open compounds, the space often comes between the verb and a preposition: break through, stand in.

Commonly Mishyphenated Words

Stilman lists a number of words and phrases that are often hyphenated but shouldn’t be. These include: more or less, ongoing, a priori, ad hoc. Latin phrases should not be hyphenated.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at hyphenation in prefixes and suffixes. I’ll bet you can’t wait!


Source: Anne Stilman’s Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, and Grammar (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997).

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Hyphenation 101: Primary Uses of Hyphens in Spelling

I’m reading my way through Anne Stilman’s Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, and Grammar (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997). Call me strange, but as a writer and editor, I eat this stuff up. This book inspires my next series of posts.

Today we’ll begin with the subject of hyphenation.

Hyphens are punctuation marks. But they’re also components of spelling.

Spelling a word correctly involves more than including the right letters in the right order. Some words require hyphens, such as multi-item. Others are misspelled (or misunderstood) if they’re hyphenated but shouldn’t be, such as under-way or a-priori.

As a function of spelling, Stilman lists the following as functions of the hyphen:

  • To link words that make up a compound word (such as two-way or water-resistant)
  • To attach a prefix or suffix to the main word (anti-inflammatory)
  • To connect words that make up a number (twenty-three)

Believe it or not, for such a small character, there’s a lot to say about hyphens. The previous list lays our plans for the next few posts about using hyphens in spelling. Then we’ll conclude with one or more editions about their use as punctuation marks.

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How to Work with an Editor

This was some good advice for all you writers paling at your editor’s comment balloons and tracked changes.


Bill and Dave’s Bad Advice Wednesday: “How to Work with an Editor.”

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Treat Your Digital Fiction Like Software

How You Can Constantly Improve Your Indie-Published Work

When traditional publishing ruled, once a book was printed, it was set in stone. That’s why they employed editors and copy editors to improve the story and ferret out all the mistakes: once the book was typeset and thousands of copies printed, it couldn’t be corrected. But we’re in the digital age now.

If you’re an indie author, you’re responsible for everything: the writing, the formatting, the editing, the publishing, and the marketing. It’s hard to guarantee perfection at every step. The good thing is, nothing’s set in stone. In today’s publishing world your books are tantamount to software. If you didn’t get it right the first time, there’s always version 2.0.

At one point I debated whether this was ethical. After my initial release of a book, should I change it? I was still recovering from the bircks-and-mortar bookstore/paper tome/traditional publishing paradigm. Now I think, If you know it needs to be corrected or can be improved, can you ethically not give your readers the best product you’re capable of providing?

If you discover you need to make corrections to a work already published, you can do so and simply upload a new version to your favorite sales portal. Along with the power of having your own digital Gutenberg comes great responsibility.
Digital book 2.0
As a technical writer 25+ years in the software industry, I adhered to this principle in the millions of pages of documentation I wrote and published: If it needs fixed, whatever the reason, fix it and republish ASAP.

Going the extra mile is in your favor. If you get a less than spectacular review and the reader complains about something you can change, do so as quickly as possible to prevent others from jumping on the bandwagon. For instance, if a number of reviewers (precious few nowadays) bitch about how much they hated the ending, REWRITE IT.

Like the in-house Quality Assurance department, your beta readers don’t always catch everything before you publish. Once your work is in the hands of the public, you become Helpdesk and Support Services, fielding complaints and logging issues for product improvement. Your product.

I’m not advocating changing your fiction at the whims of your readership. If you made a decision that you know is right for your story, stick with it. Yet if it concerns some other issue you can rectify, do so. Reminder: it pays to take your time and ensure you’re putting your best out there the first time.

Sure, some readers will always own 1.0. These are the breaks. But some of your readers getting an improved pub is better than all of them getting version 1.0 with all its bugs. It’s simply not necessary with digital texts.

Amazon lets you notify readers that a new version is available. I did this once for a classic I had republished because an OCR scanning error turned into a factual error that I didn’t catch. I don’t recommend you do this unless absolutely necessary. Especially with fiction, once it’s read, it’s read.

But if you get a chance to improve your published work—whether it’s to correct typos, smooth out a scene, fill in a plot hole, or post a new cover—by all means, do it. Constant improvement is the professional stepstool to greater sales.

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