June 16, 2017 Re-sign v Resign: don’t let hyphens trick you

By Jay Carmichael

a magnifying lens focusing on "grammar" word

Hyphens are the shortest marks used to indicate different word forms. Just as we use en and em dashes to indicate nuanced meaning, a hyphenated word also changes the meaning of the sentence it’s in. Typographically, you should also remember that hyphens never have space on either side of them as this differentiates them from other dashes.

Here are some of the main ways you can use a hyphen correctly.

Join adjectives

An adjective is a word that’s used to describe, modify, limit or qualify a noun. Sometimes, more than one adjective applies to the same noun, like when we write someone’s age. This is called a compound adjective, for example:

  • The two-year-old

Here, ‘two’, ‘year’ and ‘old’ are all adjectives altering the reader’s interpretation of the noun ‘child’ – it’s not just a child, it’s a ‘two-year-old child’. Here are some more examples:

  • The red-hot
  • A three-year

Compound adjectives are useful to ensure clarity in your message, but sometimes you may not need to create a compound adjective. For example, compare the following two sentences:

  • She sees a human-eating dinosaur.
  • She sees a human eating dinosaur.

In the first, it’s clear that the dinosaur is a human-eater, i.e. that you better run fast otherwise you’ll be devoured! But in the second, the meaning changes to the viewer seeing a human eating a dinosaur – the other way around!

Make compound words

Similarly, use hyphens to create compound words that include ‘all’, ‘self’, and ‘half’.

  • self-starter
  • half-hearted
  • all-seeing

Don’t use on words that end in ‘-ly’

If the first describing word ends in ‘-ly’ – such as ‘terribly’ – it is called an adverb. Adverbs modify the second adjective, which means in these cases you don’t need to hyphenate.

For example:

  • It was a terribly dull

Creating a hyphen on Mac or PC

Press the hyphen key at the top of your keyboard – the one between the ‘0’ and ‘+/=’ keys.

Get on top of hyphenation

Punctuation is tedious, especially the nitty-gritty. But you want your copy to be error-free and perfect.

Contact the Avion team to discuss your upcoming proofreading or copyediting work. We’ll go over everything you need and make sure you’re communicating clearly