Wednesday, August 09, 2006

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate: a well-timed question

This might be a case of a little knowledge being dangerous. I understand, or have lately come to understand, the value of phrasal adjectives. They can be a handy way of tightening a sentence and removing static verbs. Typically, they require a hyphen as in a well-timed question. In the story that I workshopped recently (my just-workshopped story) I used several of these neat devices. But I got them wrong. I didn’t realize that there is an exception to the hyphen rule and John Casey pointed out my error (in two cases; he missed one). Here’s what Garner’s Modern American Usage has to say about the exception:
“When a phrasal adjective begins with an adverb ending in –ly, the convention is to drop the hyphen—e.g.: ‘With the hotly-contested [read hotly contested] Second Congressional District primary six days away, supporters of . . .’ But if the –ly adverb is part of a longer phrase, then the hyphen is mandatory (the not-so-hotly-contested race).”
It was the –ly that got me. Three times. Thus, the story in which my phrasal adjective errors occurred is my just-workshopped story or my recently workshopped story but not my recently-workshopped story.
I wonder how often I’ve gotten that wrong in the past.

2 comments:

Mary Akers said...

Ooh! Good to know. I have--on many occasions--inserted a wrongly used hypen myself.

Clifford Garstang said...

Hmm. A nicely phrased comment!