Don’t syphon your hyphens

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Q.
What’s the proper use of hyphens?

A. Hyphens diminish the space between words. They bring words closer rather than separating them. Here is a guide to the most common uses of hyphens.

Whether you are a native speaker of English or a speaker of English as a second language (ESL), these tips can be helpful.

compound words  Use hyphens to separate parts of compound words. Use the dictionary to learn whether to use one word, two words or one hyphenated word. Water-repellent, but waterproof; cross-examine, but notebook.

multiple-word adjectives  Use hyphens to connect two or more words functioning together as an adjective before a noun.

  • Buy some paper-wrapped fish at the market.
  • We charge for in-house consulting and for EPA-mandated documents.
  • Sears’ 120-piece tool-set.
  • Profit-sharing plans (profit modifies sharing, not plans).
  • Levi’s red-tab jeans, on sale for $90.00.

avoiding ambiguity  Use hyphens when uncertainty would arise without them.

  • She will speak to small-business men (not short males).
  • Forty-odd employees would be silly without the hyphen.
  • The agency provides domestic-violence training (training in domestic violence, not an at-home training session on violence).
  • A genuine-leather catcher’s mitt (a mitt made of genuine leather, not a mitt for a leather-catcher).
  • Hyphenate to distinguish re-creation from recreation.
  • Hyphenate to differentiate under-served from undeserved.
  • Hyphenate to separate awkward double or triple letters, such as anti-intellectual and cross-stitch.

multiple words as one   Use hyphens with words that you want to glue together into a single unit. The hyphen brings single words together so they work as a team.

  • Slab-on-grade.
  • A less-is-more philosophy.
  • The Eagles-Redskins game.
  • The Willard-Laney-Johnson-Elliott family reunion.
  • The Atlanta-Philadelphia flight.
  • When my son sat on my lap during his first Phillies game, it was a take-me-out-to-the-ballgame feeling.

suspended hyphens  In a series of similar entries, when each entry requires a hyphen, write the hyphens and skip (or suspend) the common word.

  • You may buy first-, second- or third-class tickets.
  • The agency provides before- and after-school care.
  • We offer both short- and long-term leases.

fractions  Use hyphens for fractions. One-fourth of my income goes to pay off the national debt (the hyphen brings words closer).

incorrect hyphens   Do not use hyphens when the same words follow the noun.

  • We do in-house consulting.
  • We do the consulting in house.
  • We did a last-minute edit of the nonfiction manuscript.
  • We edited the nonfiction manuscript at the last minute.

more incorrect hyphens  Do not use hyphens to connect -ly adverbs to the words they modify.

  • A slowly (no hyphen) moving truck.
  • A partially (no hyphen) edited manuscript.
  • An especially sympathetic writing coach.

Quiz: How many hyphens would you insert in this paragraph?

The 12 story, glass and limestone tower improves the look of the entire neighborhood. The new condominium development on Bank Street features homes with state of the art appliances and the latest in furnishings. Buyers looking for beautifully appointed two and three bedroom contemporary homes with open floor plans should visit this high-end development. First-quarter sales have been brisk, attesting to the property’s solid investment potential. Buyers and their agents should stop by the sales office on Bank Street or request a copy of the four color brochure.

Answer: My version adds 11 hyphens.

The 12-story, glass-and-limestone tower improves the look of the entire neighborhood. The new condominium development on Bank Street features homes with state-of-the-art appliances and the latest in furnishings. Buyers looking for beautifully appointed two- and three-bedroom contemporary homes with open floor plans should visit this high-end development. First-quarter sales have been brisk, attesting to the property’s solid investment potential. Buyers and their agents should stop by the sales office on Bank Street or request a copy of the four-color brochure.

Can non-native English speakers write nonfiction?

all rules apply

Q. English is not my first language, but I have to write business reports for work. Help!

A. Help is on the way.

I understand that your goal is to be able to write better, more precise e-mails and reports – and to produce them more quickly. Even though English is not your first language – even though you write English as a Second Language (ESL) – you can do this.

If we were meeting in person, we would spend two hours together each week, devoting one and a half hours to writing and a half hour to vocabulary. Whether you are writing to colleagues, co-workers or clients in Camden or Cairo, you will be better prepared to write what you need to write.

As an educated person with an excellent command of English, you know grammar far better than most native speakers. For the writing segment we would begin with the basics:
• A quick review of grammar, including parts of speech, pronouns and prepositions.
• A special focus on active verbs and how they improve all writing.
• A review of punctuation, sentence structure and paragraphs.
• Ways to edit and proofread your early drafts.

Then we would kick it up a notch and discuss:
• Clarifying your thoughts before you write.
• Organizing your document.
• Knowing your audience.
Writing in parallel construction.
Avoiding common mistakes.
• Tightening your copy.
• Formatting (if appropriate).
• Spelling and grammar tools in Microsoft Word.

Along the way, if you get stuck in the middle of a document, you can call or e-mail me. If I’m at my desk, I can often answer immediately.

For the vocabulary lessons, we will talk during each session about a business-related topic, such as human resources, domestic business and international business, the areas in which you specialize. I will create short lists of words that you can master in a week.

P.S. Until we begin….

Buy an inexpensive crossword book, at a dollar store or a chain pharmacy. Start doing the puzzles, looking up answers whenever you want. Keep lists of the words you need to master.