Hyphenation Exercise (489)

Insert one or more hyphens where needed in each sentence.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: Smith had been the company’s CEO for two and a half years, but this was the first time he and Jones had talked face to face.
Correct : Smith had been the company’s CEO for two and a half years, but this was the first time he and Jones had talked face-to-face.

A phrase specifying a mixed fraction includes hyphens only when the phrase modifies a noun, as in "a two-and-a-half-year wait." Phrases such as "face-to-face" are hyphenated as adjectives both before and after a noun and as adverbs after a verb.

2.
Original: Too many entrusted with enforcing the laws use the shoot first, worry about the details later method in dealing with encounters.
Correct : Too many entrusted with enforcing the laws use the shoot-first-worry-about-the-details-later method in dealing with encounters.

Even long phrasal adjectives such as the one in this sentence, which describes a particular method, should be hyphenated to signal that the phrase is a single term modifying a noun. If the train of hyphenated words seems too unwieldy, an alternative is to treat the phrase as if it were being spoken: "Too many entrusted with enforcing the laws use the ‘shoot first, worry about the details later’ method in dealing with encounters."

3.
Original: He sustained non life threatening injuries in the accident and benefited from up to date medical treatment.
Correct : He sustained non-life-threatening injuries in the accident and benefited from up-to-date medical treatment.

The two pairs of hyphens string together phrasal adjectives preceding nouns. (Normally, when the prefix "non" appears, it is directly attached to the root word, as in "nonprofit." However, when it refers to a phrasal adjective such as "life-threatening," it is attached with a hyphen to indicate that it refers to the entire phrase, not just "life.")

4.
Original: Congress is divided over an unavoidably tough but all important vote of conscience on overseas conflict.
Correct : Congress is divided over an unavoidably tough but all-important vote of conscience on overseas conflict.

Adverbs in phrases such as "unavoidably tough" are often confused for adjectives, but an adverb (in this case, "unavoidably") that modifies an adjective (here, "tough") is not hyphenated to the adjective. The phrasal adjective "all important," however, which modifies the noun phrase "vote of conscience," should be hyphenated. The noun phrase itself, though, is not hyphenated.

5.
Original: We are a cooperative of family farms consisting of third and fourth generation growers who engage in sustainable farming practices.
Correct : We are a cooperative of family farms consisting of third- and fourth-generation growers who engage in sustainable farming practices.

The phrase "third- and fourth-generation" is an example of suspensive hyphenation, in which a word that could take the second position in each of two parallel phrasal adjectives that modify a noun is merely suggested in the first instance; the full form is "third-generation and fourth-generation growers."

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