Hyphen or not?

rogersgeorge on November 2nd, 2009

Our lesson today, class, is about when and when not to hyphenate phrases.

Hyphenate adjective phrases. You can have set-up instructions, a step-by-step plan, a last-minute trip, living-room furniture, and out-of-the-box thinking. All these phrases are adjectives. They describe nouns (technically the word should be the more generic term “substantives,” not “nouns.” “Thinking” isn’t a noun, it’s a gerund.)

Do not hyphenate phrasal verbs or prepositional phrases. You sign up for a trip, set up a process, hook up a connection, sign in to your account. You can put down the box,  and you can pull over to the side of the road (verbs), you plan step by step, go on a trip at the last minute, keep it under your hat, and you think out of the box (prepositional phrases).

Some phrases are used as nouns. “That was a nasty put-down.”

One type of exception to these hyphenations: Some phrases have become so common they have turned into compound words. You have a pickup truck, a login ID, and a nice setup.

Can you think up some better examples? Put your own thought-of phrases in the comments.

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4 Responses to “Hyphen or not?”

  1. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that people over “quote” and, over-comma, but they are more likely to under hyphenate! Heck, should over-quote and over-comma be hyphenated? They’re not adjective phrases. Wait, maybe they’re phrases used as nouns, and therefore should be hyphenated. My native-English-speaker instinct makes me want to hyphenate them since they really aren’t part of the sentence structure and are being used as nouns.

  2. This was very interesting. I enjoyed your analogy and your comments.
    We are trying to establish a simple plan for all of my team to use other than the various style books

    However, I like your style.

    It is real logic!

    Dianne Bell
    Director of Communications

  3. Would you hyphenate “vanilla fudge swirl ice cream” or “vanilla fudge ice cream” — or would this be over-hyphenating?

  4. I’ve never seen ice cream flavors hyphenated, but you could if you consider the adjectives to make a compound. Perhaps they’re not hyphenated because technically those modifiers are nouns (used attributively).


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