5 Examples of How Hyphens Help

By Mark Nichol

Confusion about whether or not to use a hyphen remains one of the most common mechanical problems in writing. Here are five sentences in which hyphens are erroneously omitted.

1. “The head on crash sent three people to the hospital.”
This sentence creates the unfortunate impression that a human head is somehow responsible for a car accident: The phrasal adjective “head on” should be hyphenated before the noun it refers to (but, like all the other examples in this post, should left open when it follows the noun): “The head-on crash sent three people to the hospital.”

2. “It’s unfortunate that she didn’t make better informed decisions.”
One could refer to informed decisions that are better, but that’s not quite what is meant here. The reference is to decisions that are better informed, so the phrasal adjective should be hyphenated: “It’s unfortunate that she didn’t make better-informed decisions.”

3. “His report suggested a less than careful analysis of the facts.”
What kind of analysis being discussed? One that is less than careful. So this combination of words should be hyphenated: “His report suggested a less-than-careful analysis of the facts.”

4. “She showed excellent time management skills.”
This sentence can be read only as intended, but because “time management” is not awarded status as a standing phrase by being honored with a dictionary entry, it should be treated like any other temporary phrasal adjective: “She showed excellent time-management skills.”

5. “By observing quality of care measures at that point, they could predict with 77 percent accuracy who would drop out of high school.”
The issue is not care measures and their quality; it is measures of quality of care, or “quality-of-care measures”: “By observing quality-of-care measures at that point, they could predict with 77 percent accuracy who would drop out of high school.”

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5 Responses to “5 Examples of How Hyphens Help”

  • Nelson Carter

    In example 3, what is the word “read” doing there? I notice you omitted it from the revision.

  • Mark Nichol

    I meant to replace read with analysis but forgot to delete read; we’ll fix it.

  • Julie R Butler

    In example five, shouldn’t there also be a hyphen for “77-percent accuracy?”

  • Mark Nichol

    Julie:

    No, references to percentages are not hyphenated.

  • Julie R Butler

    Mark

    Oh, I didn’t know that rule about percentages. It seems arbitrary, since it is an adjectival phrase.

    Thanks for the response.

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