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Wednesday February 20, 2008

Hyphen test

HYPHENS have three main uses: (i) to join words into a compound word; (ii) to join an affix to a base word; (iii) to break a word at the end of a line.

There are three forms of compound words: (i) closed or solid compounds (written as single words with no hyphenation), e.g. teapot, toothache; (ii) hyphenated compounds, e.g. mother-to-be, passer-by; (iii) open compounds (written as separate words), e.g. heart surgeon, seat belt.

The proper use of hyphenation can help to clarify the meaning of a sentence. This exercise looks at some of the ways in which hyphens are used. Can you tell which of the sentences below are correctly hyphenated?

1. The six-year-old boy said he put a toad in his sister’s bed because he couldn’t find a mouse.

2. She was scantily-dressed in a backless gown that was designed to catch men, but all she caught was a cold.

3. Twenty-five years ago, I applied for a job in a bank because someone told me there was money in it.

4. The mean American-history teacher faxed my poor grades to my father.

5. My broker called this morning to say that I should start the day with some good buys, namely, five- and eight-year bonds.

6. We re-elected him as the club’s secretary because one good term deserves another.

7. I call my pet cat Meow, which it probably thinks is not an odd-sounding name.

8. Repairing a clock is a time-consuming activity.

9. When he came back from a long-and-tiring trip to Venice, he complained that the whole place was flooded.

10. “I want you to re-sign ? the document,” the boss said to his nervy secretary as the ringing of the telephone interrupted his statement.

11. The red-eyed frog asked the princess to kiss him because he espied a fly on her upper lip.

12. The tongue-tied pupil was the only person at the class picnic who didn’t get sunburn on the tongue.


Only sentences 2 and 9 should have no hyphenation:

1. The phrase “six-year-old” is hyphenated because it functions as a single adjective to modify the noun “boy”.

Compare with the phrase “six years old” in the sentence “The naughty boy is six years old”. Here, the phrase is not hyphenated because it does not function as a single adjective.

2. Do not hyphenate a compound consisting of adverb ending in –ly + adjective/past participle, whether or not it precedes the noun it modifies: she was scantily dressed; a scantily dressed guest.

3. Compound numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine, if they are spelt out, are hyphenated. Except for years, numbers at the beginning of a sentence are spelt out.

4. The sentence is correctly hyphenated if the teacher teaches American history. Compare with “American history-teacher”. (This is an example of a temporary compound, with hyphenation to avoid ambiguity in a particular sentence.)

5. Hyphenate a suspended compound, in which a word common to several compound adjectives is not repeated. (Sometimes it is the first part of the compound that is not repeated: a three-eyed and –armed alien.)

6. Generally, use a hyphen when a base word begins with the letter that ends the prefix.

7. Hyphenate a compound consisting of adjective + present participle before and after a noun: an odd-sounding name; a name that is odd-sounding.

8. Hyphenate a compound consisting of noun + present participle before and after a noun: a time-consuming activity; an activity that is time-consuming.

9. Do not hyphenate independent adjectives preceding or following a noun. In the sentence, “long” and “tiring” each modify the noun “trip”. (Hyphenated compounds containing “and” function as a single idea: an up-and-coming politician; it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.)

10. Use a hyphen to prevent a word from being confused with another word of different meaning, e.g. “re-sign” is not the same as “resign”.

11. Hyphenate a compound consisting of adjective + noun to which –d or –ed has been added, whether or not it precedes the noun it modifies: a red-eyed frog; a frog that is red-eyed.

12. Hyphenate a compound consisting of noun + past participle when it precedes the noun it modifies. (Many such compounds are also hyphenated when they follow the noun they modify: a tongue-tied pupil; a pupil who is tongue-tied / an expensive tailor-made suit; a suit that is tailor-made.)


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