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Write the Right Word: Hyphens

The Associated Press Stylebook, which Ag Comm uses as its writing guide, has eased the rules for hyphens.

The basic rules are that hyphens are joiners. Use them to avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words.

Think of hyphens as an aid to readers’ comprehension. If a hyphen makes the meaning clearer, use it. If it just adds clutter and distraction to the sentence, don’t use it.

One of the biggest changes is that you no longer have to hyphenate most compound modifiers after versions of the verb “to be.” For example: “The man is well liked.” “The children are soft spoken.”

Also, you don’t need a hyphen when you use a modifier and the meaning is clear without it. Examples include chocolate chip cookie, special effects embellishment, climate change report, public land management, real estate transaction, emergency room visit, cat food bowl, parking lot entrance, national security briefing, computer software maker.

However, one rule that hasn’t changed is that you don’t need a hyphen in phrases that start with “very” or adverbs ending in -ly. For instance, “2018 was a very good year for producers.” “This is an easily remembered rule.”

You also still need to hyphenate two-word modifiers if they come before a noun. For example: “The nominee is a well-known producer.” “Farming is a full-time job.”

Ellen Crawford, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

 

Filed under: Written Communication
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