A quick primer on hyphens

Hyphenation perplexes many people, even seasoned writers and editors. Here’s some help to take away the guesswork. (Oh, and happy National Punctuation Day!)

A lot of people screw up hyphenation.

Please note that it’s not:

A lot of people screw-up hyphenation.

If I’d written that, it would be a screw-up.

Hyphenation can be tricky. There’s widespread confusion, it seems, about when and how the tiny line segments should and shouldn’t be used. With so many instances in which people guess wrong, covering all the misuses would take acres of the Internet. I’ll try to be concise, yet thorough.

Adverbs versus adjectives

Generally, if you use a phrase before a noun (as an adjective), you would hyphenate it.

Jerome and Frieda had a face-to-face meeting.

If you use that phrase after a verb (as an adverb), you would not hyphenate it.

Jerome and Frieda met face to face.

Also (the repetition stinks, but):

Try to stay up to date by getting up-to-date reports from Jerome and Frieda.

-ly adverbs

No hyphen is needed when an -ly adverb precedes an adjective:

Jascha delivered the randomly gathered comments, not … the randomly-gathered comments.

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