•           Home
  • Getting Started
  • Working at Home
  • Productivity
  • Grammar & Spelling
  • Research
  • Text Expanders
  • Earnings Calls
  • Product Reviews
  • Podcasts
  • About

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hyphenating Words, Part 1 – Compound Modifiers

Hyphens are punctuation marks that can be used either to join words or to separate syllables. There are numerous rules regarding when to use hyphens, so we'll break this up into a series so as not to overwhelm anyone. Today we'll focus on compound modifiers, also known as compound adjectives or phrasal adjectives.

Compound modifiers are two or more adjectives or adverbs that describe a noun directly following them. They require a hyphen to prevent confusion on the part of the reader. It signals to the reader that he/she should interpret them as a phrase and not separately.


  • blue-green water
  • long-term contract
  • two-year-old boy
  • one-third cup
A good rule of thumb to use is that if you can't insert the word "and" in the phrase without altering the meaning, you should use a hyphen.

There are a few exceptions to this rule. One is you never hyphenate a phrase containing the word "very." Do not use a hyphen following words that end in -ly. Also, if the modifying phrase appears after the noun, generally you will not hyphenate it.

  • very hot soup
  • friendly looking dog
  • contract for the long term