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To Hyphenate or Not to Hyphenate

2015 August 17

Hand holding punctuation mark hyphen or dash isolated on a white backgroundA new phenomena is taking place in the fiction I’m reading. I’m discovering a lot of incorrectly hyphenated words. Sometimes those words should be separated into two words without a hyphen or the word is actually a compound.

So, those who read The Tactical Editor on a regular basis will want to pull out their style sheets for this posts. Style sheets, for those who aren’t aware, are cheat sheets for authors. They keep us from struggling to find the rules for commonly used or misspelled words and rules of grammar and punctuation all the way to information about characters in an ongoing work in progress.

Today, we want to add words that are usually incorrectly hyphenated or separated into two words.

Right Wrong
Airborne Air-borne or air borne
Coffeepot; coffeemaker Coffee pot; coffeemaker
Countertop Counter top; counter-top
Doorframe; doorjamb Door frame or Door-frame; door jamb or door-jamb
Fulltime if not placed before a noun; hyphenated if placed before a noun (full-time work) Full time
Good-bye (Always hyphenated) Goodbye
Good night (two words), except when used as an adjective such as good-night kiss. Goodnight (Never a compound word)
In-law; mother-in-law; sister-in-law; father-in-law; brother-in-law Never leave out the hyphen on these words
Sidestep (sidestepped, sidestepping) (as a verb); side step as a noun (side step of a house) Side-step
Stepmother, stepfather, stepsister, stepbrother No hyphenation or separation of these words

Here are some common rules for hyphenation:

  • When two or more adjectives precede a noun, and when those adjectives modify the noun together, the adjectives should be hyphenated. Example: the age-old story; a good-night kiss.
  • When expresses ages, the hyphen is used. Correct usage: the one-year-old OR the one-year-old child (remember the second hyphen or you have an old child who is one)
  • Never use a hyphen with the adverb very or with adverbs that end in ly.
  • When writing out time, such as ten forty. Do not hyphenate the time; however
  • Compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine are hyphenated.
  • Fractions are also hyphenated. Example: two-thirds
  • Imaginative compound verbs that are not well-known should be hyphenated in order to avoid confusion. Example: The quarterback scissor-sliced the field to score a touchdown. (That’s so imaginative I don’t know what it means, but you get the idea).
  • Likewise, imaginative nouns should be hyphenated to avoid confusion Example: Michael was a puzzle-pusher, always wanting me to figure out his riddles.

When in doubt, as the old fifth-grade teacher always admonished me, “Look it up.” There are many other words that authors need to check. When editing, I work with my Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary opened on my computer. One may never know when they might run into a surprising compound word or a word that requires hyphenation. When you find those, add them to your style sheet.

Books Collage

Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at




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