For the food writer: “Punctuation: The Shortest, Simplest, Most Lighthearted Guide, Ever”

Last week I talked about How to Write about Food: How to Become a Published Restaurant Critic, Food Journalist, Cookbook Author, and Food Blogger and some readers expressed concerns about punctuation. So, this week, I give you Punctuation: The Shortest, Simplest, Most Lighthearted Guide, Ever. This is an incredibly simple, wonderfully clear, delightfully amusing little guide on how to use the punctuation that has confounded you for years. Excerpt after the jump.

Here, as promised, is an excerpt from Punctuation: The Shortest, Simplest, Most Lighthearted Guide, Ever

The hyphen

It may be smaller than a dash (and I would read the section on dashes if you tend to confuse them with hyphens), but it can do something no dash can ever do: join words, such as My ex-boss loved chocolate-covered almonds so much I gave him a T-shirt with a picture of them printed on the back.

In other words, the hyphen is word glue.

So far so good. But here is where the waters get murky: the rules surrounding hyphen use are fairly ambiguous (in some instances you are allowed to join two words, but in others, you are not allowed to join the exact same words). So let me give you the most important of these rules.

Hyphenation 101

  • If you’ve got two adjectives (adjectives are words that describe nouns, such as: small, dark, red, fast, loud, hidden, patterned) and they show up before a noun (a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea), then hyphenate them, such as: the well-trained dog. Do the adjectives show up after the noun? Then don’t hyphenate them, such as: a dog who is well trained.
  • If you have multiple word compounds, use hyphens to link them together, such as: It is a little-known fact that she kept her day-by-day diary completely up-to-date.
  • If you are dealing with an adverb (a word that modifies another, such as: quickly, boldly, happily) don’t use a hyphen because the ly functions just like a hyphen, making a hyphen redundant, such as: The highly regarded officer.
  • Where it is commonly used, such as: X-ray. You dictionary will help you with these. 

Final example, to clarify and leave you with a smile

Here is an example of how the wee hyphen does a big job clarifying phrases: fifty odd girls versus fifty-odd girls. Yes, the first version, the one without the hyphen, is fun, but the version with the hyphen is correct. We assume.

(Excerpt courtesy of Punctuation: The Shortest, Simplest, Most Lighthearted Guide, Ever.)