The hyphen is the John Stockton of punctuation.
For those who don’t remember the NBA before LeBron James, Stockton is the league’s all-time assists leader. He made his bones setting other people up to score in the ’80s. The hyphen’s a lot like that, just without the short shorts or the wink-wink-nudge-nudge insinuation. It brings words together.
One of the coolest ways it does that is by connecting compound modifiers (see wink-wink-nudge-nudge above). A compound modifier is essentially two or more words working together to modify another. The cool thing is they also kind of modify each other while they’re illuminating the noun.
- Amy is a well-rounded professional.
- Professor Miller’s students are typically self-motivated.
- My car’s equipped with a limited-slip differential.
There are two common exceptions (because it’s the English language, duh). You can skip the hyphen if the first word of a compound modifier is very or if it’s an adverb that ends in ‘-ly’.
- John Grisham is a very gifted storyteller.
- Tyler’s wrist is mildly sprained, so he should be able to play next week.
So use a hyphen to set your compound modifiers up to score. And avoid the short shorts. As a look, it didn’t age well.
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