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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Compound Words–When To Hyphenate



Today’s post is about compound words. We use them every day, yet just a handful can use them correctly. Too often, I see writers just cramming words together or sticking hyphens where they don’t belong. Don't feel bad. We've all done it before. Hopefully, you won't do it again after reading this post. Here's a simplified answer. 

Compound words, by definition, are two or more words put together to form a new word or new meaning. There are three categories of compound words: closed, open, and hyphenated. I'll explain each of them in detail with examples.

Closed Compounds are when words are joined together to make a new one like keyboard (key+board), crosswalk, everything, upside, moonlight, coordinate, multicultural, etc.

Open Compounds have a space between them, but you read them together as one to form a new meaning. Ex: middle class, half sister, post office, real estate, etc.

Hyphenated Compounds are obviously words that are connected by hyphens like mother-in-law, editor-in-chief, well-being, high-priced, etc.

Okay, here’s where it gets tricky. The hyphen part. Hyphenate when words form an adjective that precedes a noun (what is being modified) but not when it follows a noun. Do not hyphenate words ending in “ly.” I'm going to show you both, but first, I'll show you examples of all three compounds. 

*Rick was a firefighter. (Closed compound.)

*Rick was well respected. (Open compound.)

*Rick was a well-respected firefighter. (It becomes a hyphenated compound after being placed before a noun, which is closed compound.)

*They have highly trained employees. 
*Their employees are highly trained. ("ly" word, so no hyphens in either of them.)

There are exceptions such as well being, which can be used with or without a hyphen. 

It's impossible to list all the exceptions and examples in a single post. And no one expects a writer to be perfect in English and grammar. After all, that's why editors exist. However, all writers should continuously learn and research to improve their writing skills. Master the craft of creative writing with the right editor by your side as your guide. And you will, one day, produce a piece that you can proudly call your own.

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