A compound adjective (also commonly referred to as a compound modifier) consists of two words, or more, that together express a single descriptive unit. For example, a good-looking fellow, a middle-class neighborhood, an open-ended question. Compound adjectives may also be a descriptive phrase, as with black-and-white movies, up-to-the-minute news, or top-of-the-line products.
When compound adjectives appear before a noun, they frequently require a hyphen—although sometimes they do not. This article will explain the exceptions to hyphenating compound adjectives. But first, let’s look at how to spot compound adjectives.
How to Recognize Compound Adjectives
The following is a helpful test to determine if you are looking at a compound adjective modifying a noun, or whether you have several adjectives each modifying the noun separately:
Insert and between the words in the compound adjective. If it does not make sense, the adjectives are connected to each other and usually need a hyphen to show their connection. For example, in the case of “heavy duty truck,” “heavy and duty truck” is obviously nonsensical, so we are dealing with a compound adjective that should be punctuated “heavy-duty truck.”
This just-add-and test is helpful in identifying compound adjectives. However, not all compound adjectives require hyphens. This test, therefore, cannot be used to indicate whether the compound adjective is an exception to needing a hyphen. What follows are some process-of-elimination questions to determine if a compound adjective is exempt from hyphen use.
Attributive Adjective or Predicate Adjective?
Does the compound adjective come before a noun? (Is it an attributive adjective?) Or does it come after? (Is it a predicate adjective?) Compound attributive adjectives—the ones that come before a noun—have to worry about hyphenation; predicate adjectives do not. If a compound adjective comes after the noun, there is no need to hyphenate. Compare “a high-quality desk” with “the desk is high quality.”
An exception: If the word is shown as hyphenated in a dictionary, such as in the case of self-conscious, well-adjusted, etc., it would remain hyphenated even when appearing after a noun in a sentence. Compare “the well-adjusted child” with “the child is well-adjusted.” This brings us to our next question:
Does the compound adjective appear in a dictionary? Some compound adjectives have been around for so long they are now accepted as a single unit of description and no longer need the aid of a hyphen to enhance clarity. A compound adjective may appear in a dictionary “closed up” (with no space between the two words, as in childlike) or “open” (with a space between the two words, as in real estate).
Open or closed up compound words that appear in a dictionary do not need a hyphen no matter whether it immediately precedes a noun or not, as with “the childlike man” and “the clever real estate agent.” If a compound adjective does not appear in the dictionary, however, it likely needs a hyphen, such as with “a Madonna-like transformation” or “the hot-yoga teacher.” (Note how the hyphen in hot-yoga identifies the type of yoga versus commenting on a yoga teacher’s attractiveness.)
Is It an -ly Adverb?
Does the compound adjective contain an adverb ending in -ly? If the compound adjective contains an adverb ending in -ly, no hyphen is needed since it is clear what the -ly adverb is modifying. For example, highly trained staff, fully charged battery, etc.
But be careful of adjectives that end in -ly. Often mistaken for adverbs, -ly adjectives need a hyphen when part of a compound adjective preceding a noun. For instance, friendly-faced person, family-owned business, wobbly-looking chair, etc.
Other adverb exceptions that do not require hyphens in compound adjectives due to little chance of confusion are very, more, most, least, and less.
When in Doubt…
While style guides are not perfectly uniform regarding the treatment of hyphens, they agree on one point: Hyphenating a compound adjective should primarily serve to aid the reader in recognizing the multi-worded unit of description. If the end result is confusing, revise.
A final note: This article briefly discussed hyphen use specifically related to compound adjectives. For hyphen rules regarding numbers, prefixes, and compound nouns, see The Chicago Manual of Style’s hyphenation table for a thorough dissection.
A well-known comma rule tells us to split two independent clauses connected by a conjunction by adding a comma prior to the conjunction. (As a refresher, independent clauses express a single thought, contain a subject and its verb, and can stand alone as a complete sentence.)
The formula for this comma convention looks like this: independent clause + comma + conjunction + independent clause. This type of sentence is called a compound sentence. The purpose of commas in this rule is to serve as a signpost for readers that a new thought is about to be expressed.
Common Error No.1: Missing Comma Between Independent Clauses
A frequently occurring error in regards to compound sentences is when a comma is missing prior to the conjunction that splits the independent clauses. The example that follows shows two independent clauses connected by a conjunction but missing a comma:
Incorrect: Our firm can handle your day-to-day accounting needs and we can help advance your financial goals.
Here is the correct way to punctuate the prior sentence:
Correct: Our firm can handle your day-to-day accounting needs, and we can help advance your financial goals.
To determine if you have punctuated your compound sentence correctly, remove the comma and replace it with a period. If the second sentence makes sense, you have correctly punctuated the sentence.
Common Error No.2: Single Subject with More Than One Verb
A misapplication of the comma-in-a-compound-sentence rule is when writers add in commas that split a single subject from governing two (or more) connected verbs. The following sentence shows this type of error:
Incorrect: Our firm can handle your day-to-day accounting needs, and can help advance your financial goals.
In the prior example, we see a comma split a single subject from its two verbs. To fix this error, simply remove the comma, or add in a subject after the comma that will govern the second verb. Both of the following examples are correct:
Correct: Our firm can handle your day-to-day accounting needs, and we can help advance your financial goals.
Correct: Our firm can handle your day-to-day accounting needs and can help advance your financial goals.
It is commonly accepted that readers read for one of two reasons: for information or for entertainment. However, determining whether your writing provides this type of value to your readers can be difficult to evaluate alone. The end result of a strong, well-crafted article is more easily achieved with the help of a second set of eyes.
This struggle to gain distance from one’s own writing is so common it is more often than not solved by hiring an editor. Professional editors pay attention to all mechanical editing issues (i.e., spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, punctuation, treatment of numbers and numerals, treatment of abbreviations and acronyms, etc.) and grammatical errors, watch for flow, filter out repetitiveness, and always champion for clarity and conciseness.
If you are under budget constraints and can’t afford to hire an editor, or if you simply wish to present stronger copy to your boss before it sees your in-house editor, learning how to edit your writing with the objectivity that a professional editor wields will pull your writing up to a higher level. The following are some methods and techniques that will help you get a step closer to non-fiction article writing that illuminates.
What Flow Is and Why It Matters
A simple but perhaps not perfectly technical explanation for “flow” is the following: Flow is the ease with which a reader gets through your piece. Professional editors pay special attention to the flow of a piece as it is one determining factor as to whether a reader will read through to the end of your piece or not.
When there is no flow sentences do not logically follow one another, or it may seem one has encountered a compilation of single-sentence bites of information, and/or there is a lack of interconnectedness of ideas in paragraphs and the writing as a whole.
Today’s reader has many options for reading material; make your reader work to fill in gaps in your presentation, and your audience will likely look for more digestible material elsewhere.
One possible reason for a lack of flow lies in the organization of your piece. Does each paragraph have one topic—not several—that is being developed and sentences supporting and developing that one topic?
Lack of flow may also derive from missing transitional words and phrases that show how sentences relate to each other. For example, to show contrast, use “although,” “instead,” “whereas,” or “nevertheless.” When adding to a topic, “in addition,” “likewise,” “not only … but also,” “equally,” and many others are good options.
Examples can be introduced with words or phrases such as “in other words,” “that is to say,” “for this reason,” “namely,” “in fact,” and “including.” Conclusions can also benefit from beginning with “in fact,” “in summary,” “in brief,” “ultimately,” etc.
Getting to Perfect: How to Recognize and Cut Flab
Do you use “crutch” adjectives or adverbs in your writing? How to tell if you do: Go through the last article you wrote, and look for any adjective or adverb used more than once in a paragraph or page—that word you see cropping up more than it should is likely your “crutch.”
A “crutch” in this context is the first word your mind grabs when asked for a description. Your crutch adjectives and adverbs may be unique to you, but common adjectives used in this manner are “nice,” “great,” “awesome,” etc. Overused adverbs include “really,” “very,” “just,” etc. Such words have been trotted out so frequently as to lose its value.
How to eliminate crutch words? Uproot adjectives or adverbs used more than once on any page of text you have written. Ask yourself if there is a more detailed, specific, or visual word that can be used in its place. Do this with each occurrence of any repeated descriptor. Your goal is to have text that is fresh, with no tired words or phrases.
In like manner, strike out words or phrases that add little value to the piece and serve only to boost word count while causing your writing to lose its punch. If a word, phrase, or sentence adds unique information to the page, or if it adds flavor that delights or entertains, let it stay. If not, erase.
Information that is repeated more than once is another way that amateur writers drive away readers. When you repeat facts, the writer assumes one of the following: 1) you don’t trust the writer to remember a certain fact, 2) you don’t remember adding in the fact at an earlier point, or 3) you love the sound of your voice and don’t believe you should be edited.
Somewhat related to the above, consecutive sentences or paragraphs that begin or end with the same word or phrase cause writing to sound repetitive. Repetition for effect is hard to do masterfully. Avoid it for the most part. As you revise your writing, you’ll likely tweak beginnings and endings of both sentences and phrases, unintentionally causing this type of repetition, so looking for unintentional repetition should be one of the last editing tasks on your list.
Clarity—First and Foremost
While cutting flab will go far in aiding clarity, solely avoiding repetition does not guarantee that your finished prose will be understandable to the reader. It is possible that in your search for a unique turn of phrase you have created a descriptively diverse but ungainly behemoth.
Of course, paying attention to grammar and punctuation goes a long way to ensuring the readability of your text and how enlightened your reader will feel after having spent time in your company. It should go without saying that in your pursuit of finely cut sentences you evaluate your writing for subject/verb agreement, parallel structure in lists, consistency in proper noun use, possible punctuation gaffes, and any other grammar mistakes you commonly make.
An important final step: Read your piece out loud. Hearing how your words sound to your ear is a different experience from seeing them on a page. If you stumble as you read any part of your writing, it is likely your reader will experience that feeling twofold. Reword when you come across anything that is imprecise or ambiguous. Write with a compassionate pen. Take pity on tired minds by forcing yourself to first think clearly on the subject, which will translate into serviceable writing.
Lastly, remember there are other articles your reader could be reading; the fact that the reader has chosen to spend time with you should push you to write tight copy with the primary focus of benefiting the reader.
It used to be that copyeditors (also frequently referred to as editors) had a job description that consisted of watching for grammatical and punctuation errors, inconsistencies in presentation, adherence to the house style guide, etc. Today, however, many editors are expected to fact check, develop content, ghostwrite, and so much more. In fact, the number of editors who also provide book designing services, proofreading, and a host of other services has increased as well. How did this come about?
The rising popularity of print and digital self-publishing has created job opportunities that were previously only provided by publishing houses and news outlets that hired full-time editors to do their work. While most writers that publish articles for a readership of most any size will recognize the need for a critical eye going over content, small businesses and aspiring authors generally do not have the budget that more traditional publishers command.
An Editing Team Vs. a One-Man Show
Traditional publishing houses and news outlets may have any of the following on their editorial team: A developmental editor for the organization and presentation of text; a copyeditor to correct grammar, punctuation, and flow; a proofreader to check typeset copy; a fact checker to verify the accuracy of content; an indexer to organize a list of names and subjects with corresponding page numbers; and in the case of highly technical material, a panel of experts to review content, looking for holes in theory.
A first-time author interested in self-publishing is often initially intimidated by the cost of hiring an editor, much less a team of professionals, each specializing in a certain aspect of publishing. Consequently, copyeditors—to make their services more palatable to potential clients— have begun to expand the number of services they offer to aspiring authors: The writer gets an all-in-one package, and the editor is able to charge a slightly higher rate due to the all-encompassing services the editor offers.
Looking to the Future
The question of whether each editor that offers such broad services can fully provide these highly technical and distinct services—such as developmental editing, fact checking, indexing, proofreading, and more—begs to be asked. However, this is the demand as it currently stands, and freelance editors looking to make their mark in the editing field should consider whether broadening the services they provide may boost their business and increase their attractiveness to potential employers.