Hyphenation Exercise (410)

In each sentence below, one instance of hyphenation is correct, and the other is incorrect. Identify which one is wrong and correct it.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: The multi-million dollar contract included a hold-harmless clause.
Correct : The multimillion-dollar contract included a hold-harmless clause.

It’s a common error to introduce an extraneous hyphen in "multimillion" (hyphenated prefixes are the exception, not the rule) and similar words and neglect the necessity of linking such a word with "dollar" as a phrasal adjective before a noun. "Hold harmless" is hyphenated to indicate that is a phrasal adjective (two or more words that unite to modify a noun).

2.
Original: The next-best thing to having a ritual practiced throughout a society is to create a rite-of-passage unique to the family or community.
Correct : The next-best thing to having a ritual practiced throughout a society is to create a rite of passage unique to the family or community.

The noun phrase "rite of passage" needs no hyphenation. If "next-best thing" is used in a comparative sense, the hyphen correctly links the words in a phrasal adjective that describes what kind of thing it is, but if the phrase is used in a sequential context to refer to the next thing to be considered the best, using a hyphen is wrong.

3.
Original: The think-tank’s report emphasizes that such acts constitute a culture-of-violence issue.
Correct : The think tank’s report emphasizes that such acts constitute a culture-of-violence issue.

"Think tank" is a noun phrase that requires no hyphenation. "Culture of violence," as a single concept modifying "issue," does.

4.
Original: All incidents, whether a near-miss or an actual injury-related event, should be investigated.
Correct : All incidents, whether a near miss or an actual injury-related event, should be investigated.

Phrases that begin with "near" should not be hyphenated unless they serve as phrasal adjectives modifying a noun (for example, "a near-miss scenario"). "Event" is modified by the correctly hyphenated phrasal adjective "injury related."

5.
Original: One-tenth of all highly-educated mothers are opting to stay at home to care for their families.
Correct : One-tenth of all highly educated mothers are opting to stay at home to care for their families.

Although the style is counterintuitive, spellings of fractions are hyphenated. "Highly educated," however, needs no hyphen. It is not a phrasal adjective; "highly" is an adverb, not an adjective, that modifies "educated," so the first two words of the phrase "highly educated mothers" are not linked.

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