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January 20, 2011

Hyphenation Challenges

Paige-for-web-site 75x75 by Paige Jackson
Following on from last week’s post about APA Style rules that writers find most challenging (according to a recent article by Onwuegbuzie, Combs, Slate, & Frels, 2010), this week we tackle a common hyphenation error: failing to hyphenate a compound with a participle when it precedes the term that it modifies.

This hyphenation rule is in both the fifth and sixth editions of the Publication Manual.  Indeed, it’s a general rule of punctuation, rather than being peculiar to APA Style.  Like most other hyphenation rules, its rationale is that clarifying what modifies what prevents misreading.  For example, a “good looking glass” could describe a high-quality mirror, but a “good-looking glass” is more likely to represent an attractive tumbler.

A related challenge is hinging the hyphenation of a compound with a participle on the placement of that compound within a sentence.  Hyphenation that seems to be inconsistent can be jarring, particularly within a paragraph.  But with the example above, in the phrase “good-looking glass,” the hyphen clarifies the meaning, whereas if we’re describing a “glass that is good looking,” a hyphen would be superfluous.

Are there other hyphenation rules that seem counterintuitive to you?


Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Combs, J. P., Slate, J. R., & Frels, R. K. (2010). Editorial: Evidence-based guidelines for avoiding the most common APA errors in journal article submissions. Research in the Schools, 16(2), ix-xxxvi.


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