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To hyphenate or not to hyphenate

Posted by Wendy Wood on 24th September , 2019 in Grammar
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Hyphens matter. Because thirty-odd proofreaders are not the same as thirty odd proofreaders.

Or perhaps they are. But I digress.

If you’re having trouble deciding if you should use a hyphen, check the would-be phrase in your favourite dictionary. I’m always amazed how many are listed. In fact, would-be can be found in the Macquarie Dictionary.

If the phrase can’t be located, there’s a simple rule to follow. Generally, you should hyphenate two or more words acting as a single thought (called a phrasal adjective) that come before the noun they are modifying.

For example, consider the difference between thirty-odd proofreaders and thirty odd proofreaders. The first means there are somewhat more proofreaders than the indicated thirty. The second indicates the thirty proofreaders are peculiar in a freakish or eccentric way. Which we usually are, but again I digress.

Clarity is the name of the game. If your intended meaning is unclear to your readers, definitely add a hyphen. Thirty odd proofreaders will thank you!

Wendy Wood, proofreader


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