Top 3 Hyphen Errors

If the apostrophe is the most misused punctuation character in the English language, the hyphen must be a close second.  Any good authority on grammar and punctuation will have pages and pages of rules for the use of the hyphen. This is not one of them. It’s just a list of the three most common misuses and abuses of the hyphen found on Yahoo!.

Hyphenating a word that doesn’t have a hyphen

The only way to be sure that a word should be hyphenated is to look it up in a dictionary. Nevertheless, many writers fail to take that simple, straightforward step and add a hyphen to a word that is derived from two or more words. Be sure to check out the 30 words that appear most often on Yahoo! with an unnecessary hyphen.

Adding a hyphen to an adverb ending in LY

You don’t need it. Don’t put a hyphen after an adverb ending in LY. Ever. The LY at the end of the adverb is enough to signal to your reader that it modifies the word that follows it.

She is a highly regarded editor with a rapidly expanding collection of examples of poorly written blog entries. 

Omitting the hyphen in an age or adding a hyphen to an age

It seems to be a contradiction, but sometimes an age requires 2 hyphens and sometimes not.  Here’s a simple rule: if the expression contains years old (note that plural years), omit the hyphens. If it contains year old (and that singular year), include two hyphens, before and after the word year.

 She’s 35 years old, but she writes like a 10-year-old.


31 Responses to “Top 3 Hyphen Errors”

  1. Jaime Says:

    Thanks for the information! This is great!

  2. Motor Mom Says:

    These are great tips. Thanks!

  3. Caren M. Says:

    Love reading your blog! These tips are great. Bookmarking it for reference in the future.

  4. Just learning enlish Says:

    Thank you for this information. It’s the first time I read this kind of information in a concise and easy-to-understand format. I’ve bookmarked this page.

  5. Gilbert Says:

    Thanks! This was short and easy to understand and read.

  6. Ryan Flarity Says:

    You should add three more categories:

    Mixing up hyphens and dashes.

    Putting spaces around hyphens.

    Adding hyphens to phrases that don’t need them. Examples:
    “I’m going to pick-up my car.”
    “Be sure to fill-in the shape completely.”
    “Your password is need to sign-in.”

    • Laura Says:

      Those are good ones! Of the three, I see Yahoo! staffers using a hyphen instead of a dash most often. They also use a hyphen to join a verb and its preposition to form what they think is still a verb (as your examples illustrate). I like your suggestions and will try to expand this list.

  7. Col. Mustard Says:

    Great tips! Thanks for these and for your vigilence!

  8. Debbie de Caussin Says:

    Here’s a hyphen use question. A well nourished and developed patient. If it was well-nourished and well-developed patient, I would use the hyphens as I have. But in the example, the patient is both nourished and developed “well.” Was I right to leave off the hyphen between well and nourished?

    • Laura Says:

      In your example, to be absolutely, excruciatingly correct, you would use a suspensive hyphen before the word “developed”:
      A well-nourished and -developed patient

      But I think it’s awkward and bound to look like an error to many readers. I’d recommend repeating the word “well” and eliminating the word “and”:
      A well-nourished, well-developed patient

  9. Hombre Says:

    These is good tip for me.Thanks for information.

  10. lynnlovesediting Says:

    I have a question:

    Is there a hyphen in “heaven sent”? I’ve found mixed responses concerning this, and I figured you’d know the right answer.

    • Laura Says:

      Hi, Lynn! If you’re using it as an adjective, it should be hyphenated, even if it doesn’t immediately precede the noun it modifies:
      The gift was heaven-sent. It was a heaven-sent gift.

      If you’re using it as a verb, no hyphen. (I know you knew that. I mention it only because there are other readers out there who probably could use a reminder — like Yahoo! staffers.)
      Heaven sent me a gift.

  11. jliv Says:

    I see a lot of hyphen abuse with numbers, especially on weather sites. I think this is incorrect:

    “Temperatures nearly 10-degrees cooler than Thursday…”

    Or “The high today will be 85-degrees.”

    But “An 85-degree day” would be correct. Correct?

    • Laura Says:

      I have no idea why some people think a hyphen is required in expressions like “10 degrees.” As far as I can tell from consulting several authorities, the hyphen is incorrect. You are correct that the hyphen is required when the temperature is used as a compound adjective consisting of a number and a unit of measure appearing before the noun it modifies. So, “85-degree day,” “t0-foot fence,” and “3-year-old girl” are all correct. But “the temperature was 85 degrees,” “the fence is 10 feet high,” and “the girl is 3 years old.”

  12. Doug Carleton Says:

    When is a hyphen appropriate in writing about stories of a building? I have seen it written “four stories” and “four-stories”. An example would be…”the four-story building was built in 1925 and sold for $1,000,000….” Is the hyphen needed?

    • Laura Says:

      The rule is the same whether you’re writing about stories of a building or the length of a home run. It should be: “a four-story building” (note that “story” is singular and the compound adjective “four-story” modifies “building”) or “the building has four stories.”

  13. artanyway Says:

    Is the following sentence punctuated correctly?
    “We are taking a mid-January vacation in mid January.”
    (I know, I know: It’s redundant. But my concern is whether or not to hyphenate “mid” in the second instance.)

  14. Blane McLane Says:

    In the following phrase, would the hyphens be required?: “The top-three-largest accounting firms are X, Y and Z.”

  15. barbararuth Says:

    The hyphen is not always wrong with “-ly” words. E.g., “friendly-looking dog.”

    • Laura Says:

      Although “friendly” ends in -LY, it is not an adverb in “friendly-looking dog” — it’s an adjective. “Friendly-looking” is a compound adjective (where “looking” is a participle functioning as an adjective), modifying “dog”, and thus should be hyphenated.

  16. Luis A. Diaz Says:

    This is great. I was just about to correct someone who wrote “poorly led groups…” I was about to put a hypen after poorly.
    Thanks so much for your post and clarification.

  17. Kathy Says:

    Which is correct: 10-Year Club or 10 Year Club. We’re debating!

  18. Jack Says:

    My French course keeps correcting my English. Should I really write ’85’ as ‘eighty-five’ with a hyphen?

  19. Mandie Jean Wright Says:

    How would you hyphenate “a twelve or thirteen-year-old boy”? I think a hyphen after “twelve” would be technically correct, but appear clunky.

    • Laura Says:

      The hyphen after “twelve” is correct: a twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy

      If you think it’s clunky, try some alternatives. I don’t know if you’re following a specific style guide, but some authorities recommend using numerals for ages: a 12- or 13-year-old boy

      Or maybe you can rewrite: a boy, 12 or 13 years old,
      Or: a boy, around 12 or 13,

      • Mandie Jean Wright Says:

        Thank you for the quick response!! (I am editing someone else’s work, so I’m trying not to change the original too much.) I’ll correct it and let her decide if she wants to change it.

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