When to Use a Hyphen in a Compound Adjective

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

We’ll look at fourteen cases showing when to use a hyphen in a compound adjective. 

1. Compound Adjective 

Generally, you’ll use a hyphen between two or more words to create a compound adjective that is placed before a noun. The created compound adjective will have a single idea different than the meanings of the individual words.

Examples of compound adjectives found in my dictionary:

push-button process

cold-blooded heart

five-star rating

mean-spirited attitude

nail-biting experience

stomach-turning odor

Examples I created:

two-job dilemma

strawberry-flavored kiss

gross-smelling cleaner

falling-over house

moss-covered stone

hair-frizzing fear

*Don’t use a hyphen if two words before a noun don’t form a new meaning as a unit. For instance, friendly big dog or pretty yellow flower don’t work with hyphens. Friendly-big and pretty-yellow don’t stand as single-meaning 

2. Compound Adjective Follows a Noun 

Usually, when a compound adjective follows a noun, no hyphen is necessary, because the relationship is clear without a hyphen, or the sentence is written differently.

Examples:

The process was a series of pushing buttons.

His comment was cold blooded.

He gave the movie five stars.

Her attitude was mean spirited.

The experience was nail biting. 

The odor was gross smelling.

 

3. Confusion

If there’s a possibility for confusion add a hyphen.

Examples:

Meg wore the little used coat to dig potatoes.

Did Meg wear the little used-coat or the little-used coat?

Ella passed her difficult driving test.

Was the test for difficult driving (difficult-driving test) or was the driving test difficult?

4. Suspended Hyphens 

Usually when two or more compound adjectives with a common base come before a noun, write them as in the examples below.

Examples:

The doctor prescribed the pills for the one- to two-week illness.

The task force came up with short- and long-term solutions.

5. Compound Adjective Used in Ages 

Examples:

The four-year-old school had a huge crack in the basement wall.

For ages of children, an adjective or a noun will have hyphens.

Noun: Jenny has a four-year-old.Adjective: Jane had three-year-old twins.

6. Proper Nouns 

When proper nouns are used as compound adjectives, don’t use hyphens.

Examples:

Jaxon is a United States Marine.

The store sold South American pottery.She was a National Book Award winner.

7. Compound Adjectives in Titles

Make sure you capitalize all the words inside a compound adjective in a title.

Examples:

You Can Become a Self-Assured Man

How to Repair Plaster-Wall Cracks

8. Well-Known Expressions 

The editors who edit my books do not hyphenate some well-known expressions.

Examples:

high school: Mark asked Jenna to the high school prom.

department store: Candy tried on the department store dress.

small business: The small business doors opened at nine.

9. Prefixes and Suffixes 

Usually, words with prefixes and suffixes are not hyphenated. 

Examples:

Scott underwent extracranial surgery. (prefix: extra-)

Cassie loves multipurpose tools. (prefix: multi-)

Mick promoted a cleanliness mantra. (suffix: -ness)

It was a disastrous party. (suffix: -ous)

Below are some exceptions.

Use a hyphen when a prefix is joined with a capitalized word. 

Examples:

We had a pre-Thanksgiving gathering.

Disliking apple pie is an un-American quality.

Compound adjectives that have prefixes self-, all-, and usually non- should be hyphenated.

Examples:

Jack was a self-employed man.

Jill gave Peter and all-knowing smile.

I prefer non-alcoholic drinks. 

Compound adjectives that have suffixes -style, -free, and -based should be hyphenated.

Examples:

Haley adorned her walls with Monet-style paintings.

I wished John would give up sugar-free beverages.

Kristin was allergic to sulfa-based drugs. 

10. Compound Adjective Formed with an Adverb

A hyphen is unnecessary when the compound adjective is formed with an adjective and an adverb, especially adverbs ending in -ly.

Examples:

Colby was a highly efficient welder.

I have a finely tuned system.

You’ve made a poorly constructed model.

11. Hyphen with a Present or Past Participle

When a present participle or a past participle is used in a compound adjective, use a hyphen.

Examples:

What a fine-looking man he is. (present participle)

I prefer grass-fed cattle. (past participle.)

12. Compound Adjectives with Numbers

When numbers are place at the front of a compound adjective, use a hyphen.

Examples:

We leased a second-story apartment.

The speaker gave a twenty-minute speech.

We’re going on a seven-day cruise.

13. Compound Adjectives with Fractions

Examples:

We lacked a two-thirds quorum.

Phil presented a half-baked plan.

14. Comparative & Superlative Compound Adjectives AND a Participle

When this case arises, don’t use a hyphen.

Comparative words are like: meaner, faster, lower.

Superlative words are like: slowest, meanest, worst

Examples:

My hometown was the fastest growing city in Florida. (Participle: growing)

My painting was the ugliest looking piece in the art show. (Participle: looking)

Which hyphenating problem crops up for you most?

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

Your Story Isn’t About You Even Though It’s a Story About You

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

So who is your personal story about? It’s about the reader and his/her reading experience. 

If you’re writing a story based on your personal experience, be careful to avoid the following four pitfalls.

Image by Joe from Pixabay

Giving Unnecessary Backstory

A personal story is meant to be based on a small slice of a writer’s considerable lifelong material. So, writers must refrain from slowing the forward motion of their particular story by telling side anecdotes or going off on tangents.

Sometimes writers stick these extras in odd places in the story as if they thought of a side story while writing page eight and place it there when it had a small connection to what they wrote on page two. 

Novelist Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s advice is good: “Murder your darlings.”

Explaining

The story is about an interesting event that happened in the writer’s life. But instead of building the story tension, the writer explains why he took such and such action. Or instead of giving the flavor of the setting the writer details the setting as if he’s writing a travel book. Or tells the reader the differences between the technology of that time and the current day.

Who’d want to read historical fiction if the writer interrupts the story to tell the reader only rotary phones existed at the time, instead of simply showing the character entering a telephone number one digit at a time on the black telephone’s dial.

Adding Unnecessary Information

Here the writer peppers the real story with their likes and dislikes, their preferences, and their judgments that have little or no bearing on the event. Sometimes the writer reminds the reader of information the writer already revealed, forcing the reader to read repetitious information instead of getting on with the story.

Telling the General Story and Impact Up Front

The writer thinks mentioning the bad or good event in general terms and how it affected their perspective on life before they begin the story is a teaser. No. It needs a spoiler alert. It removes the thrill of reading the actual event when and if they ever get to it. Sometimes the writer does this multiple times in the story before another secondary event.

Example: Revealed early in the writer’s marriage. If I’d known Jerry was going to divorce me in two years, I’d have opened a bank account and put half our money in my account.

What else ruins a person’s personal account of an event?

BUY NOW

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Should I Pay to Attend a Writers Conference?

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The easy answer is sure if you have the time and money. But if time and money is a factor, here are some suggestions for the level of writer you are.

I Want to Write but I Know Little about the Craft or Business.

Yes. Make sure the conference has classes that address the type of writing you wish to write, e.g., fiction, articles, children’s books, nonfiction. If you attend a reputable conference:

  • You will receive a good picture of what it takes to write.
  • Many authors are instructors, so you’ll view successful authors. An author instructing a class I attended at my first writer’s conference in 2003 is now an award-winning author, a conference director, and president of an international writers group. In 2019, she endorsed my book on writing. 
  • At some conferences you can sign up with authors or agents for mentor appointments.
  • Conferences usually offer time slots for attendees to pitch an idea to an agent or editor Often, these professionals are happy to answer questions if you don’t have a book yet. At that first conference in 2003, I courageously signed up for fifteen minutes with an agent. I pitched a book (which never gained a contract) and presented the two books of short stories I’d self-published. She signed me on.
  • You will meet others like yourself. All those successful authors at the conference that are buddies started out just like you. If you’re like me, you’ll make some friends and see them again at other conferences. Friendships will grow. I still have friends from those first conferences. We promote each other’s books in our newsletters. 
  • You may find the perfect critique partner or partners.

I Have Limited Success and Have Attended a Conference or Two

Image by Steve Cliff from Pixabay

Yes. Usually, conferences have different levels of stand-alone and multiple-day classes. It’s difficult to take in every wisdom for improving writing techniques in one conference. Now, intermediate classes may be for you.

  • You will continue to make and renew friendships.
  • You’ll improve your all-around writing as well as writing for a specific genre.
  • If you’ve attended the same conference more than once, it may be time to try a different one. I flew to a large fiction conference for several years. Then I discovered a conference within driving distance that offered more days of instruction and multiple types of writing for a lower fee. Many of the instructors from the large fiction conference taught at that venue.
  • You may want to add classes on marketing, social media, and writing tools to your schedule.

I’m Multi-Published with One or More Publishers and/or I’ve Moved to Self-Publishing, and I Find Little New at Conferences

Answer: Maybe not. I came to this point. By far, I hadn’t learned everything, but few classes appealed to me for the cost of the conferences, travel, and hotels. However, I still need to learn my craft.

  • Like me, you may get more out of writer retreats or small intensive seminars led by one or two successful instructors/authors—ones that help you go deeper. 
  • It may be time for you to pay forward what you’ve learned and teach those entering a writing career. I’ve taught at small and midsized writer’s conference, but what I truly enjoy is presenting what I’ve learned to writers groups, in person or on zoom where I can travel around the country from inside my home.

What is your experience with writers conferences?

BUY NOW

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Newsletter Signup

Please subscribe to my newsletter, Zoe’s Zigzags, and receive a free short story.”

Author Zoe M. McCarthy Newsletter Signup

Follow Blog Via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,858 other subscribers
-278Days -3Hours -21Mins -23Secs

American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

Pin It on Pinterest