Punctuation: Hyphenation

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What’s the difference between a “little used car” and a “little-used car”? Between “more critical attacks” and “more-critical attacks”? Or, for that matter, between “toxic tort litigation” and “toxic-tort litigation”?

Phrasal Adjectives:

  • Rule: When two or more words form a unit that comes before the noun that the words modify, hyphenate those words (public-accommodation laws; full-time professor).
  • Exception—Adverbs ending in -ly: Readers of English know that adverbs can’t modify a noun, so hyphenation is unnecessary.
  • Exception—Familiar Phrases: If the term is familiar, not all good writers hyphenate the phrase (summary judgment standard; criminal law attorney). And over time, many hyphenated phrases drop the hyphen and become a single word. For these, consult a reputable usage guide.

Numbers:

  • Compound Numbers: Compound numbers that function as adjectives should be hyphenated (twenty-one individuals; one-hundred dollars; five-year-old child).
  • Fractions Used as Adjectives or Nouns: Fractions used as adjectives or nouns should be hyphenated (a two-thirds majority; she completed one-half of the marathon).

Proper Nouns:

  • Rule: Don’t hyphenate a proper noun used as an adjective (the Penn East decision).

Prefixes & Suffixes:

  • Rule: Certain prefixes (e.g., ex-, self-, all-) and suffixes (e.g., -elect) usually require a hyphen. Consult a legal-use guide for a more exhaustive list.

Suspended Hyphens:

  • Rule: When two or more compound modifiers have a common base and this base is omitted in all but the last modifier, the base is suspended, and the hyphens remain (the third- and fourth-grade teachers complained).

If you’d like more examples on proper hyphenation practices, then you can find more information here and also here.

And now here are a few test-your-hyphenation-learnings questions!

2

1 / 5

1. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? The podcast purported to be an in depth investigative review of a controversial trial.

2 / 5

2. Which of the following rewrites of the underlined portion is correct? She is a fanatically precise operator.

3 / 5

3. In the next sentence, which of the underlined words or phrases, if any, has an error? The farmers are potential third party beneficiaries, both because they receive impact payments and because the agreement requires that the agency contract with farmers and pay them to fallow land.

4 / 5

4. In the next sentence, which of the underlined words or phrases, if any, has an error? Although Vice President Biden ultimately decided to sit out the 2016 election, he appears to have positioned himself as his party’s back up candidate in the event that Hillary Clinton had to withdraw from the campaign.

5 / 5

5. In the next sentence, which of the underlined words or phrases, if any, has an error? Although your suggestions for filling in the itinerary with more sites and visits have superficial appeal, in the end such a busy schedule would be ill-advised and would likely wear out our guests.

Your score is

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