7 Tips for Using Hyphens with Adjectives
A team of two or more words that band together to provide detail about a person, place, or thing are called phrasal adjectives, or adjectival phrases. The name’s not important, but it is essential that you employ hyphens to link these tag teams to clarify the relationships between adjectives (and, sometimes, conjunctions) and the nouns they modify. Here are some types of phrasal adjectives:
1. “She’s showing the classic fight or flight reaction.”
What kind of reaction is it? Fight or flight. That’s a single type of reaction, so the phrase “fight or flight” is linked with hyphens to indicate its unity: “She’s showing the classic fight-or-flight reaction.”
2. “Black and white photographs from the 1930s show Nebraskans fueling their Fords at corn-ethanol blend stations.”
Are some photographs black and others white, or are they all black and white? The latter choice is correct, and, because the phrase “black and white” modifies photographs, you should hyphenate the phrase into one string: “Black-and-white photographs from the 1930s show Nebraskans fueling their Fords at corn-ethanol blend stations.”
3. “Check the list of publications below for more nontoxic pest-control information.”
Again, study the connections between words, then fortify the links. The information about pest control isn’t nontoxic; it’s about nontoxic pest control: “Check the list of publications below for more nontoxic-pest-control information.” Better yet, relax the sentence by rephrasing it: “Check the list of publications below for more information about nontoxic pest control.”
4. “He was laid off from his high-tech customer-relationship-management sales-support job.”
If too many hyphenated phrases in one sentence makes it look like a train wreck, again, relax the sentence: “He was laid off from his high tech sales-support job in customer-relationship management.” (“High tech” is in the dictionary as such, so it needs no hyphenation before a noun.)
5. “Our waterworks have reached the classic ‘run to failure’ moment.”
Avoid scare quotes — quotation marks employed to call attention to an unfamiliar phrase — but because the phrase within them here modifies moment, its words should be strung together: “Our waterworks have reached the classic run-to-failure moment.”
6. “The woman can’t see how agents confused her diminutive brother with a 6-foot tall fugitive.”
This sentence describes a tall fugitive with six feet — surely, difficult to confuse with anyone else. Make sure every element in the modifying phrase is attached: “The woman can’t see how agents confused her diminutive brother with a 6-foot-tall fugitive.”
7. “The farmer-turned-land planner is taking on both industrial irrigation and the lawn industry.”
Turns of phrase that include turned to describe a transformation don’t require hyphenation: “The farmer turned land planner is taking on both industrial irrigation and the lawn industry.”
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