A good Explanation of Why Hyphens are Important

rogersgeorge on November 6th, 2017

I’ve mentioned the Oxford comma several times over the years. I’ve mentioned hyphens and dashes now and then, too, even compounding of adjectives. Well, here’s some of that again: compound adjectives.

Here’s the rule: If two (or more) adjectives together modify a word, hyphenate them. (If the first word happens to be an adverb, the hyphen can be optional, especially if it’s a common phrase.)

Okay, here’s a compound adjective done wrong:

Since “hand job” is a real thing, apparently (something salacious, I guess), the paper has pretty well embarrassed itself, because they meant “first-hand,” which is also a real thing. The error occurs inside the article, too, as “first hand experience.”

No wonder newspapers are on the decline: They are getting rid of their copy editors!

PS—Today I ran into a headline from someone who did it right:

Newberry Cabin, mammoth fossil provide science students hands-on learning opportunities

Also from a newspaper, by the way, the Star-Telegram. (Their name is a compound noun, not a compound adjective.)

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Poor Old Adverbs—They are so Misused

rogersgeorge on November 2nd, 2017

First, I see now that we’re using adjectives as verbs! “Harsh,” an adjective, is now in style as a verb: “Don’t harsh my, um whatever.” I suppose “criticize” has become too long a word for some folks to use. Harrumpf.

But now that I mentioned verbs and adjectives, that leads to adverbs, another word that adjectives frequently replace. Here’s a Pickles to illustrate:

I don’t often see the guy correctly correcting the gal’s grammar in the comics, but in this case, he’s right. This mistake is easy to make; adjectives are typically shorter than their adverbial counterpart. See the reference to “harsh” above.

Now, having defended the adverb, I have to add that you can usually skip adverbial constructions correct or incorrect altogether. That comic isn’t a good example of leaving out adverbs (they’re used substantively here, but I digress), but most of the time, you make your writing tighter and punchier when you leave out the adverbs and use a good verb, one better than “make” and “do.” And please, try never to use “very”!

Adjectives Don’t Show Number in English

rogersgeorge on September 18th, 2017

In a lot of languages, when you put an adjective with a noun, the adjective has to agree with the noun. Feminine nouns get feminine endings on their adjectives (gender), plural nouns get plural adjectives (number), and so on. If you know other languages, you know what I mean by the “and so on,” such as the effect of case.

English (with a few exceptions, such as court martial, poet laureate, secretary general) puts the adjective right in front of its noun, and it doesn’t matter much what kind of noun. Here’s an example of getting it wrong:

The New York Times (and others) reported on Plimpton 322, a famous four-millennia-old Babylonian tablet featuring a table of Pythagorean triples.

You might argue that it’s a compound adjective (hyphenated correctly, by the way), but it should still be “millennium.” The whole thing is an adjective, so it shouldn’t show number. An example of correctness:

He drives a four-door car and a sixteen-wheel truck.

That incorrect usage, by the way, is from an interesting and well-written site called Math with Bad Drawings. Even if you’re not much on math, give it a look. The bad drawings are actually pretty good, even. Here’s one:

If you’re a native English speaker, you probably do this without thinking; this post is so you’re aware of what you’re doing already, and so you don’t stumble.


Bad Language Joke

rogersgeorge on December 7th, 2016

That’s bad joke, not bad language, and herein lies a small lesson: Beware using nouns attributively. That’s when you use a noun as an adjective, such as in the title of this post. The reason to beware is because sometimes you can’t tell how that attributive noun is being used, as I point out in the first six words of this post.

(whew!) Finally, here’s the joke:

How to Make an Adjective out of a Noun

rogersgeorge on November 17th, 2016

Tl;dr version: Add -y or -ey. Some of these constructions are common: we have a mess, and things can get messy. You can make a joke out of this, too: What’s brown and sticky? —a stick! Some other suffixes can make an adjective out of a noun, such as -some. Trouble, troublesome. But adding that y is the most versatile, I think. It means “having the characteristics of.” You can use it on any noun. Hence the last word in today’s comic, Betty:


This is a good example of how to use an optional hyphen. You can put it in to make the meaning clear.