Thursday, April 23, 2020

your grammar PSA: hyphenating phrasal adjectives

For phrasal adjectives, the normal rule is to hyphenate such adjectives if they come before the nouns (or noun phrases) they modify. Examples:

a hard-working, tax-paying earthworm
a gun-toting toddler
a six-foot-long paramecium
a one-ton cricketburger
a five-year orgasm
a twice-cooked testicle
a now-liberated nipple
an African-American cashew

We hyphenate phrasal adjectives to avoid ambiguity. The classic example:
a violent weather seminar (ambiguous: is the seminar violent, or the weather?)
a violent-weather seminar (unambiguous)

However, there is one major exception to the hyphenation rule: if the first word of a two-word phrasal adjective happens to be an adverb ending in "-ly," we do not hyphenate.
a vomitously delicious pizza
a frighteningly romantic evening
a disturbingly attractive midget
a historically significant fart
a subtly insulting turd
a monstrously unsatisfying episode of "Game of Thrones"

So remember: hyphenate your noun-preceding or noun-phrase-preceding phrasal adjectives unless they begin with an "-ly" adverb. If there's an adverb in initial position that doesn't end in "-ly," then you're free to hyphenate. Compare:
a fast-moving sequence of events (hyphenate)
a rapidly moving sequence of events (do not hyphenate)

We good? Good.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

Hmm, another opportunity to screw much for ignorance being bliss. Actually, my Grammarly app prompts me to hyphenate a lot more than I normally would. I'll keep my eyes open for words ending in "ly" though. I trust you more than them.