Question: I have been taking a class this fall and just got my final paper back. I turned a story in to a teacher who insists I have left out many hyphens. What's wrong with describing a good looking man? Isn't she just being picky?
Answer: Yes, she's being picky, but she's also right. Hyphenate phrases that combine modifiers. Descriptive phrases like “good-looking” take a hyphen. 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 together so they will both apply to “man.”
We are writers. Words are our tools. When we are not picky about them, we can end up like my uncle who once used a hatchet to drive a nail and ended in the ER with half an ear. Well maybe not quite THAT bad, but funny-looking all the same.