June 15 2010

Compound modifiers: Don’t forget the hyphen

by Barbie in Grammar

Compound modifiers are two or more words that jointly describe another word. Generally, compound modifiers are adjectival phrases, though they can be adverbial phrases as well. Compound modifiers, with a few exceptions, require hyphens, which are often overlooked by writers. Use a hyphen to indicate that the words preceding the word (usually a noun) are jointly describing it.

For example:

  • The weather forecast calls for high-speed winds.
  • The well-intentioned student impressed her teacher.
  • Advisers must work closely with dual-degree-seeking students.

There are a few exceptions to remember when using compound modifiers:

  • Do not hyphenate the compound modifier if it follows the word it describes. Compound modifiers are only hyphenated when they precede the word.
  • Do not hyphenate compound modifiers that end in “-ly.” For example, “highly educated man” should not be hyphenated.