3 Questions About Hyphenation with Adverbs
Writers are often confused about whether a phrase beginning with an adverb should be hyphenated. The answers to the following three questions explain when hyphenation is required and when it is incorrect.
1. I read an article that included this sentence: “Smith did his best during a nationally-broadcast speech this month to scare voters away from Jones.” Is that hyphen correct?
Adverbs ending in -ly are generally not hyphenated, because the suffix signals that the adverb modifies the word that follows it, not the noun that follows both words, so a hyphen is redundant. Many people, including your friend, confuse such adverbial phrases with adjectival phrases (or phrasal adjectives, as they’re more commonly called), which do usually take hyphens.
2. True or false: If an adverb is a part of the phrasal adjective, it does not need a hyphen to connect it. For example, “She was a highly motivated student.” Assuming that is true, how would you approach the phrasal adjective in this sentence: “We’re having nowhere else conversations in this confidential community.” Else is an adverb, but to modify conversations, does “nowhere else” need a hyphen?
True and false: In discussions of adverbial phrases that modify a noun, the distinction described in the answer to the previous question and repeated here is sometimes ignored: Adverbs ending in -ly are never hyphenated in such phrases, because the suffix signals that the adverb modifies the next word, not the noun, so a hyphen is redundant. Adverbs with no such suffix, however, should be hyphenated, as in “nowhere-else conversations.” (However, I do not recommend that particular construction.)
3. A coworker who edited a report I wrote insists that the hyphen in the following sentence is required: “Condemnation of her offensive response was near-universal.” Is she right?
Your colleague is under the near-universal misapprehension that when the adverb near precedes an adjective, the two words are always linked by a hyphen. However, this is true only when the words combine to modify a noun that follows, as in the phrase “near-universal condemnation.” (This is a case of hyphenation with an adverb that does not end with -ly, as discussed in the answer to the previous question.) This distinction is the same as for phrasal adjectives consisting of an adjective and a noun converted to an adjective, as in the difference between “the highest-grossing film” and “the film that is highest grossing.”
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