Thursday, October 13, 2011

hyphenation question - writin tip

Question from my e-mail: Arline, I'm reading a hard back book from a well known publishing house and I see make-up spelled both with a hyphen and then again as all one word. These people are definitely the "big leagues," so don't they know which is correct? I know, I know, I have way too much time on my hands, but I'm curious.

Answer: Actually, both may be correct. A make-up test gets a hyphen, but makeup that you put on your face gets none, according to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary. Spell check will almost always let you down with compound words like facial makeup, as it concentrates on the individual words, encouraging lots of folks to hyphenate if they know the words "belong together" and spell check doesn't recognize them. The dictionary is always the best reference for this kind of thing.

As a general rule, Hyphenate phrases that combine modifiers. Descriptive phrases like “good-looking” take a hyphen, for instance. The best rule of thumb is that if both words won’t act as modifiers alone, they should be hyphenated. For instance you could have a good man, but you couldn’t have a “looking man” because that wouldn’t make sense. You need a hyphen to hook the words good and looking together so they will both apply to “woman.”

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