A to Z Challenge, 2014: Hyperventilating on Hyphens
Oh Heck! More Quirky Writing Errors
June Casagrande, author of Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, titles her chapter about hyphens this way:
Hyphens: Life-Sucking, Mom-and Apple-Pie-Hating, Mime-Loving, Nerd-Fight-Inciting Daggers of the Damned
Many people would agree with that assessment. There are just too many rules for hyphens.
Hyphens get nine full pages of coverage in the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). Following an introduction of nine general principles, CMOS then lists out over 100 specific points related to words or phrases that need or don’t hyphens. That sounds like enough to make you hyperventilate. Let’s try to simplify some of that.
My sister just sent me a childhood picture of the six girls in my family. This picture makes me smile.
I can only guess at our ages in the picture: eighteen-year-old Joyce, seventeen-year-old Joanne, fourteen-year-old Shirley, eleven-year-old Beverley, seven-year-old Judie, and little five-year-old me.
Note three things about these ages:
- Use hyphens on ages. Omission of hyphens on ages is a common error in the drafts of articles for our community newsletter.
- Newspapers generally use numerals for ages according to their own style sheet. Use the style of the publication for which you are writing.
- When talking about an age group, use a hyphen and space after the first age group:
The five- to ten-year-olds had a field day at the park.
The school has classes for three-, four-, and five-year-old children.
…talking to a classroom of six-year-olds about dinosaurs definitely beats talking to a room full of adults about politics. WE ARE TEACHERS (blog), “12 Reasons Teachers Have the Best Job in the World”
Why add hyphens when using numbers? To ensure clarity.
eleven year olds or eleven-year-olds
Is it eleven children who are each one-year-old, or is one child who is eleven-years-old? The hyphens clarify.
Other ages: five-and-a-half-year-old girl, four-month-old baby, seventy-five-year-old man
Note: if the age comes after the noun, do not use hyphens.
The baby is four months old.
Sarah is ten years old.
The gentleman is seventy-five years old. (Use the hyphen on the compound number only.)
Use Hyphens On Time:
The fourteen-year-old girl took a four-week class on babysitting at the YMCA.
How about making spaghetti sauce? How long should you cook it?
But for those cooks in the know, breaking down a Jersey tomato into a five-hour sauce is a no-no….Blasphemy,” says Robert Bell, executive chef of the group that runs Gourmet Italian Cuisine, The Carriage House catering hall and Sweet Gourmet Bakery, all in Galloway Township (NJ). “A good Jersey tomato you just eat like an apple, in my opinion.” Felicia Compian, “Gourmet for the Whole Family,” The Press of Atlantic City, July 23, 2013:
Use Hyphens On Sizes:
a nine-by-twelve rug
Use Hyphens and Numerals on Measurements
12-story, stainless steel model of the Earth
How much is civic pride worth? In Whatley, Mass., at least $650. That’s how much the local historical society spent to refurbish a 20-foot-tall concrete milk jug in the middle of town. The group felt it important the bottle be in tip-top shape because it’s the “symbol of Whatly.” AP news brief, “Milk makeover,” The Press of Atlantic City, NJ, July 23, 2013
Use Hyphens On Compound Numbers from Twenty-one through Ninety-nine.
twenty-four, thirty-three, ninety-two, two hundred ninety-two, five hundred
Be sure to check the style guidelines for different genres to see how numbers whether numbers should be spelled out. Newspapers generally spell out numbers from one to nine, but even that is not consistent with all newspapers. Otherwise, write out numbers above 100.
On fractions: one-quarter , one-half, two-thirds majority, half-inch
The boys ate three-quarters of the pizza before dinner.
Hyphenated words can be tricky, but if you develop an eye for them by finding them in your reading material, you will master them. For review, read my previous posts on hyphens:
D is for Deep-Fried Hyphens
F is for Freshly Squeezed Adverbs
G is for Gobs of Hyphens Used Correctly
And just for fun, here is a picture of my mother and her sisters. Mom is top row, third person.
Your turn: What quirky errors do you find in writing? Which ones annoy you the most?
Janice Hall Heck is a retired educator and now
nitpicky editor of On the Horizon, a bi-monthly community newsletter for Horizons at Woods Landing, Mays Landing, NJ.