Ever-so-helpful hyphens

by Haley Morton

A curious thing has happened in the recent weeks. It has come to my knowledge that as a spring semester senior, I have a serious grammatical problem. Punctuation problem, really. Hyphens. They’ll be the death of my capstone.

The good news is that the History Department allows its ever-so-diligent capstone students to turn in two drafts before the final. Thank heavens for drafts because this is where learning happens. For me, this “learning” meant acknowledging my inappropriate lack of hyphens throughout my 92-page capstone.

By doing a little research, I learned that the rules behind hyphens are rather straightforward. There are two rules you should note.

  1. Hyphens are used to mark compound adjectives. Compound adjectives are two are more adjectives that are all used to modify the same noun. If the adjectives come after the noun, a hyphen is unnecessary. For example:
  • Necessary hyphen: He had a bullet-proof vest.
  • Unnecessary hyphen: The vest was bullet proof.
  • Necessary: …ever-so-diligent capstone students…
  • Unnecessary: Capstone students are ever so diligent in their drafts.
  1. The use of hyphens can also change meaning. In other words, without hyphens in the needed place, your reader can confuse how you intend to modify the noun. For example:
  • “Small-state senator” is not the same as “small state senator.”

It’s entirely possible that you never find the need to use hyphens. Or, if you’re anything like me, maybe your lack of hyphens is an indicator of a serious punctuation problem only to be manifested in one’s capstone.

Happy editing, and make sure you use those fool-proof hyphens!


Haley is a senior at Principia College and a political science and history double major. She has spent the last four years writing, studying, and running cross country and track. She is almost finished working on her capstone about Title IX and women in athletics.

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