Hyphenated Modifiers: A Guide to Effective Usage

A hyphenated modifier gives more information about a noun. A…

A hyphenated modifier gives more information about a noun. A compound modifier may be hyphenated to convey its intended meaning. In this case, it becomes a hyphenated modifier.

What are Compound Modifiers?

A compound modifier is any word that consists of two or more modifiers, usually combined by a hyphen. Compound modifiers give a detailed description of the noun to which they are attached.

They are also called “hyphenated modifiers” in the publishing industry.

Compound modifiers indicate that more than one noun dimension is being modified. What differentiates a compound modifier from a simple adjective is the addition of an adverb. A compound modifier consists of one adjective and one adverbial phrase, acting together to modify a noun or gerund.

In the sentence “John was terribly embarrassed,” the compound modifiers “terribly” and “embarrassed” modify the noun ‘John.’

The hyphen is one of the two techniques employed in some compound modifiers. The other technique is the use of two modifiers. However, not all compound modifiers need to be hyphenated; there are a few exceptions.

The Rules of Using Hyphenated Modifiers

In good writing, compound modifiers consist of two or more words that explain a single concept. Some compound modifiers—like hyphenated modifiers—are formed by combining two or more words and linking them with a hyphen.

Sometimes, it is difficult to determine whether a compound modifier should be hyphenated or not.

There are a few rules to follow. It would be best to hyphenate a compound modifier that starts with the same root letters. This will show the connection between the words in the compound modifier.

The following rules and examples will help you understand and determine whether to use a hyphen with a compound modifier or not.

1. When it comes before the noun/pronoun

A compound modifier should be hyphenated when placed before the noun or pronoun that it modifies to give the sentence a precise meaning.

Example: Mary has a two-year-old daughter (The compound modifier ‘two-year-old‘ is hyphenated because it comes before the noun ‘daughter’).

2. When it comes after the noun/pronoun

A compound modifier should not be hyphenated when placed after the noun or pronoun that it modifies.

Example: Mary’s daughter is two years old. (the compound modifier, ‘two years old,‘ is not hyphenated in this case because it comes after the noun ‘daughter.’)

3. When it includes adverbs that end in -ly

Compound modifiers that include adverbs that end in -ly should not be hyphenated. This rule also applies to modifiers that have the adverb ‘very.’ For example,

Correct: Our school booked a widely known speaker to grace our graduation.

Incorrect: Our school booked a widely-known speaker to grace our graduation.

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Bottom line

Hyphenated modifiers are words that function as adjectives in a sentence. To modify it, they come together as a unit before or after a noun. Although some compound modifiers do not require a hyphen, others are more easily understood and can be aesthetically pleasing to readers when hyphenated.

Knowing the rules and applying them in writing is essential to ensure clarity and a seamless flow.

Frequently asked questions

Is jointly owned hyphenated?

An hyphen is required between words that modify a noun in layman and legal English. It is clear that ‘jointly’ and ‘owned’ modify the meaning of ‘company’, but all adverbs ending with -ly are exceptions to this rule. Nouns cannot be modified with adjectives: you cannot have a joint company.

Do you need a hyphen before specific?

A hyphen is context specific without speaking of it: as a compound adjective, such as in an x-specific y, use a hyphe; as if it were a predicate, such that.

Why do we use hyphen in a sentence?

Hyphens binds words together. The reader is told that two or more elements in a sentence are linked.

How do you use a hyphen in writing?

  • Divide a word where the entire word is too small by using a hyphen at the end of a line.
  • Using a hyphen to indicate a word written letter by letter.
  • To join two or more words, a hyphen is used to form compound adjectives that precede a noun.
  • Avoid awkward double vowels with a hyphen.

Should highly skilled be hyphenated?

The definition of “highly skilled worker”. However, hyphens are still used in compound adjectives that contain -ly.

Do you hyphenate modifiers?

In written English, yes, but even some of us have never learned it. A hyphen between words that combine to modify a noun is a rule. 6.81, Chicago Manual of Style. 2010). Compound modifiers or phrasal adjectives are jointly modified words.

How do you hyphenate three words?

Trigrams are when three words are hyphenated. If three words are combined into one phrase describing or modifying a noun, you should hyphenate them: It was a matter-of-fact choice.

What are some examples of hyphenated words?

  • merry-go-round
  • mother-in-law
  • two-fold
  • long-term
  • check-in
  • up-to-date
  • father-in-law
  • seventy-two

Should past president be hyphenated?

Naturally, hyphenation is prohibited. When attaching them to titles, hyphenate ex, elect, and designate. If you have a title, you can also use “then” to indicate that the person was acting in that capacity at the time you describe.

What is an example of a hyphenated modifier?

Here are some examples of compound modifiers connected by hyphens: This rock-hard cake is impossible to eat. Everyone on the bus laughed at him. Having two faces is not a good idea.

Do you hyphenate vice chair?

Hyphenate most titles starting with the prefix vice: vice-president. vice-chairman.

What is a compound modifier example?

Compound modifiers are two or more words that act as adjectives to modify another word, usually a noun. Your last two words don’t change a noun when you say, “I live in northwestern California.”. Nouns are the nouns. “I saw a northwestern California landmark,” “northwestern California,” is a compound modifier.

When should a writer hyphenate a compound modifier that?

Use a hyphen when you have two-word adjectives (or compound modifiers) that work as one adjective. It is clear that the adjectives are acting as one unit by using hyphens in such cases.

What is an example of a modifier?

In a sentence, a modifier is a word, phrase, or clause which modifies another word or gives information about that word. In the following sentence, the word “burger” is changed by the word vegetarian:.

Is little used hyphenated?

Add hyphens to compound modifiers before the noun, as in the example above. Is that because, in many cases, failing to do so can cause real confusion? It is a vehicle that is being used little; it is merely a fleet that has been using little.

Hyphenated Modifiers: A Guide to Effective Usage

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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