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Grammarly Blog

Hyphens: The Punctuation Mark That Even Editors Can’t Get Right

Super high-profile ad agencies and industry giants, despite large budgets and an intelligent workforce, are known to make hyphen mistake after mistake, unable to get a handle on correct hyphen usage. I’m looking at you, Netflix, with a hyphen error right on the main page!NetflixMistakeThankfully, most hyphen usage falls into a few different categories:

  • Compound adjectives (but no -ly endings because those are adverbs!)
  • Numbers and fractions
  • Specific prefixes
  • Preventing confusion

Compound Adjective

The most important breed of hyphen to know is the one associated with compound adjectives, which are single adjectives made up of more than one word. Because both words go hand-in-hand to modify the same noun, a hyphen is used to show they are linked. The important part to keep in mind is that all words in the compound adjective are equally important. For example, “high-priced items” would not make sense as “high items” or “priced items.”

Beware of Adverbs!

While closely related to adjectives in the sense that they’re another kind of modifier, adverbs inherently imply subordination to the word that follows.

Critically-acclaimed movies

The above is incorrect because “critically” is providing context for “acclaimed,” and “acclaimed” is describing the movies. “Acclaimed” is a verb, and that’s why the adverb “critically” is referring to it exclusively and not the nonverb “movies.”

Search -ly Endings

The quick trick to knowing whether to hyphenate compound modifiers without sorting out adverbs vs. adjectives is to look for words ending in -ly. This will (most of the time) indicate an adverb rather than an adjective and, thus, no hyphen.

Exception: Some nouns end in -ly, so be mindful of what hyphens you leave off. For example “family-owned business” should retain the hyphen after “family” despite the -ly because “family” is a noun.

Numbers and Fractions

Of the hyphen family, these are perhaps the easiest to classify and implement. Numbers twenty-one through ninety-nine get hyphenated.

Twenty-seven
Four hundred and thirty-five

Fractions also get hyphenated.

Three-fifths

When describing ages, hyphenate the age only when it’s used as an adjective before a noun.

The child playing with her toys was five years old.
The five-year-old child played with her toys.

Specific Prefixes

A prefix is a modifier placed before a word to alter or enhance its meaning. The prefixes “self-,” “ex-,” and “all-,” almost always need a hyphen between them and the words they’re modifying.

Self-absorbed
Ex-husband

However, not all prefixes use hyphens.

[/incorrect]Re-place
Un-happy[/incorrect]

In addition, be sure to break up double vowels between a prefix and a root word unless your spelling checker flags them as incorrect with a hyphen.

Re-enter
Coordinate

Preventing Confusion

The hardest hyphen breed to capture, and certainly the most difficult to tame, is the one used to prevent confusion, often with a group of three or more words that contains either multiple modifiers or a noun that’s made up of two or more words.

Consider the phrase “two dollar bills”: Does it indicate multiple bills of the $2 denomination, or is it two bills of the $1 denomination? Does the phrase “twenty odd people” refer to twenty people who are strange or a group of people with about twenty in attendance?

See also this article about one author’s thoughts about the flying purple people eater. The world will perhaps never know exactly what this creature looked like or ate.

The hyphen makes the distinction for you.

HyphenJoke

And, finally, consider this interesting and slightly unfortunate story about the word “re-sent.” Without the hyphen, it reads as “resent,” which is certainly not the intended sentiment. Even though “re-” is not a prefix that typically gets hyphenated, the hyphen in this case provides an important clarification.

Have you seen any embarrassing hyphen mistakes or made any of your own?

The whole hog was eaten by me.

Three voices in English joke.
How to Use the Passive Voice Correctly

 from Grammarly Blog

First, let’s start with an explanation of what passive voice is. Passive voice sentences mention the thing or person receiving an action before mentioning the action itself, and may omit the actor altogether. For example, consider this sentence:

The leaves were blown by the wind.

The leaves receive the action of being blown. In the example, the agent is specified with the preposition by. However, the agent could have been left out of the sentence: The leaves were blown.

When is it proper to use passive voice? Consider these instances. Why do you suppose passive voice is appropriate? Check your answers below.

  • My camera was stolen from my locker at school.
  • A candle will be lit at the memorial service for the fallen soldier.
  • Diets are made to be broken.
  • The sodium hydroxide solution was heated to 200 degrees.

Answers:

  • Who stole the camera? The agent is unknown. If you do not know who committed an action, it is appropriate to use passive voice.
  • Who do you want to receive the attention? If you prefer the attention to be on the action itself (the candle being lit) and not the person doing the lighting, you may omit the agent.
  • You are expressing a general truth that is applicable to many. Using active voice to express this idea would be awkward: People who make diets make them to be broken.
  • Researchers often use passive voice in scientific reports. It is assumed that the reader knows that the experimenters are performing the actions without stating this fact explicitly. But, according to the University of Toronto, this trend is on the decline. Recent papers tend to contain more examples of active voice.
  • Is it who or whom?

    from Grammarly Blog

    Grammar Basics: How to Use “Whom”

    Whom is not a subject. Whom is a direct object of a verb.
    Whom is one of the most confusing pronouns. Many people wonder how to use it. Is it a subject? Is it an object? Here are the simple answers.

    • Whom is not a subject.
    • Whom can be the direct object of a verb.
    • Whom did the waiter serve first? (The waiter served whom first?)
    • Whom is also used in a relative clause that describes a noun that is an object.

    *The company hired the musician whom I recommended.

    • Whom can serve as the object of a preposition.

    *With whom does Belinda plan to go to the dance?

    *The man from whom Alexis received the letter works at the supermarket.

    • In casual speech and writing, people usually use who even when whom is technically correct. If you are still a little confused, try the substitution trick to determine whether to use who or whom. Mentally answer whom questions with the pronouns “him” or “her.”

    *To whom does this pen belong? The pen belongs to him. This response makes sense, so whom is correct.

    *Whom is coming to the party on Saturday? Her is coming. This reply does not sound right. You should replace whom with who.