Punctuation Quiz #4: Phrasal Adjectives
All but one of the following sentences are incorrect; insert or omit a hyphen in the others as necessary:
1. He’s a sharp dressed young man.
2. As usual, the event was well-attended.
3. I sympathize with his long-suffering wife.
4. She was touched by the open-hearted gesture.
5. The injury turned out to have been self inflicted.
A phrasal adjective is a set of two or more words that, as a unit, modifies a noun. These sentences all contain a phrasal adjective consisting of an adjective and a participle, a verb that functions as a noun or an adjective.
Original: He’s a sharp dressed young man.
Correct : He’s a sharp-dressed young man.
Together, sharp and dressed describe the young man, so they should be hyphenated.
Original: As usual, the event was well-attended.
Correct : As usual, the event was well attended.
Most phrasal adjectives are hyphenated before the noun they modify but open when they follow the noun.
Original: I sympathize with his long-suffering wife.
Correct : I sympathize with his long-suffering wife.
This example is correct; without the hyphen, it refers to a suffering wife who is long.
Original: She was touched by the open-hearted gesture.
Correct : She was touched by the openhearted gesture.
Some phrasal adjectives have, because of familiarity, become closed compounds; hardworking is one of them. (However, in this case, note that the similar phrasal adjective in “open-heart surgery” is hyphenated.)
Original: The injury turned out to have been self inflicted.
Correct : The injury turned out to have been self-inflicted.
Phrasal adjectives beginning with self are exceptions to the open-after-a-noun rule; they should always be hyphenated, even after the noun.
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