CWM: #5 Misusing hyphens

Besides the gray with an a vs. grey with an e battle, there’s one common spelling error I’ve often noticed while editing: hyphenated words.

Sometimes we believe a word needs a hyphen when it doesn’t. Or we forget the hyphen when we actually need one. It could also depend on how we use the word as well.

Usually when describing something (adjective), the word needs a hyphen. But by itself (noun), it doesn’t need a hyphen. For example, “She lives a fairy-tale life” and “I enjoyed the fairy tale” are both correct. I’ve run across plenty of examples like that, which can get confusing.

Luckily, there’s an easy solution for this.

If you double guess a word for even one second, pull up Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. If you already have a hyphen in the word, pull up Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. You’d be surprised.

Even I, a writer and editor, have the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary open all the time.

Here are a few common ones that I’ve seen:

  • Brand-new not brandnew
  • Goodbye not good-bye
  • Good night not good-night or goodnight
  • Homemade not home-made
  • Makeup not make-up
  • Nonstop not non-stop
  • Well-being not well being

The English language is complex, ever-changing, and confusing, so this isn’t true all the time. But it’s a good start for understanding hyphenated words.

Since I’ve paid more attention to hyphens, I’ve realized how many times I make mistakes with them. They’re tricky words. Always double check.

(By the way, it’s gray with an a if you’re in the US and grey with an e if you’re in the UK.)

I hope this helps!

Want more?

#1 — Using multiple adjectives
#2 — Vagueness for tension
#3 — Repeating words for emphasis
#4 — Common misused words

#6 — Unnecessary details
#7 — Not developing characters
#8 — The words feel and felt
#9 — Overusing character names
#10 — Adding too many details with commas

#11 — Different types of dashes
#12 — Not using plain language
#13 — Dialogue tags vs. action beats
#14 — Misusing commas
#15 — No sentence variation

#16 — Misplaced modifiers
#17 — Characters with similar names
#18 — When to start new paragraphs
This was originally posted on my writing blog.

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