Test Your Use of Hyphens in Your Stories

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I decided to stop winging my use of hyphens and arm myself with some rules. 

A Hyphen-Usage Test

Which four of these examples are incorrect? At the end of the test, see the analysis of why each example is correct or incorrect.

  1. ceiling-tall Christmas tree
  2. the small-delicate dancer
  3. a protein-eating diet
  4. the front-porch rocker
  5. he was soft-hearted about disciplining
  6. a lovingly-planted garden
  7. a well-timed event
  8. a twenty-four-hour job
  9. held for two- and three-hour sessions
  10. black and white cruiser

Analysis

First, my heading is correct—A Hyphen-Usage Test. Capitalize the first word and all hyphenated words in a title except articles (the), prepositions (with), and conjunctions (and). The only time a hyphenated word is not capitalized in a title is when the first word is a prefix that can’t stand alone (A Smile Is an Anti-aging Device). 

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  1. Correct. This noun and adjective unite to modify a noun. The noun following united words is key.
  2. Incorrect. Small and delicate don’t unite to describe the dancer; they each stand alone. So, “the small, delicate dancer” is correct.
  3. Correct. This noun and gerund unite to modify a noun (diet). Eating standing alone would suggest a fun diet!
  4. Correct. It’s not a front rocker. Front and porch unite to modify the rocker (noun). 
  5. Incorrect. Here, soft-hearted doesn’t unite to modify a noun. The correct sentence is “He was soft hearted about disciplining.”
  6. Incorrect. Yes, this adverb and verb unite to modify garden, but two words with a leading adverb ending in -ly aren’t joined with a hyphen. Correct is “a lovingly planted garden.” An -ly adverb is what causes the different rule. However, if lovingly is in the middle of a multiple-word descriptor, such as “the far-from-lovingly-planted garden,” lovingly gets a hyphen.
  7. Correct. Well is not an adverb ending in -ly, and it unites with timed to modify a noun (event). But the adverb well in “the meeting was well timeddoesn’t use a hyphen. Here, “well timed” is not followed by a noun.
  8. Correct. This multiple-word modifier unites to describe a noun.
  9. Correct. Both two-hour and three-hour are adjective phrases modifying a noun and are written as in the example.
  10. Incorrect. When a color combination precedes a noun, it’s hyphenated. It’s a “black-and-white cruiser,” but “the cruiser was black and white.” Also, it’s a “blue-green pond.”

Sometimes hyphens are used for clarity. Consider: “We passed five mile markers.” This talks about the number of mile markers. If the markers were placed every five miles and we passed these markers, we’d write, “We passed five-mile markers.”

Which hyphenating rule is a problem in your writing?


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2 thoughts on “Test Your Use of Hyphens in Your Stories

  1. That is so clear! I’ve always winged it, and not always successfully. It’s nice to know the rule. Thank you, Zoe. Why didn’t I ever hear that in an English class???

     
     
    1. What you said, Jane, ditto for me.

       
       

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