Keep It Together

by Cherie Tucker

June 2017

We haven’t discussed this for a long while, and I’ve noticed some bad habits developing. You know how to use the hyphen when you break a word at the end of a line. You aren’t as good as using that same hyphen to connect two words in a manner that gives them a single meaning. We used an example last time showing the difference between drive up, as in “Drive up to my house,” and drive-up, as in “The bank has a new drive-up window.” They are the same two words, but they function differently because of the hyphen. One is a verb and an adverb that simply tells the direction you should drive; the hyphen changes the other into a single word that describes the type of window the bank has.

There’s a tip to help you determine whether you need that hyphen or not. Visualize the word before the line break as the last word on the line, which should illustrate the need for the hyphen.

The bank has a new drive

up window.

You often join more than just two words with a hyphen. The same line-break rule applies for these multi-hyphenated adjectives.

When I see that no-good, double-dealing, fast-talking scoundrel, I’m going to let him have it!

If you have to fit that sentence on two lines, keeping the hyphens where they belong will allow your readers to stay with you.

When I see that no-good, double-dealing, fast-

talking scoundrel, I’m going to let him have it!

You want to keep your readers in the mood you have set. Forgetting even one of those little necessary hyphens at a line break will cause your readers to stop reading and start trying to figure out what you are saying. Not any writer’s goal.

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.

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