Do hyphens drive you crazy? Did you know that the Chicago Manual of Style has a hyphenation table for compound modifiers and commonly used prefixes*? Not only is it in the Manual, it is also available online. I love being able to reference this on my computer, especially if I’m not sitting right next to my copy of the Manual. Click here (PDF – new window) to check it out.
Compound modifiers are those multiple-word phrases that modify a noun (also called phrasal adjectives or adjectival phrases). The Manual‘s general rule is that if the modifier comes before a noun, it is hyphenated, and if the noun comes first, no hyphen is needed. Of course this is just a general rule, refer to your style guide or dictionary if you’re ever unsure.
*These are not the only times that hyphens are appropriate. The main function of a hyphen is to aid in clarity and readability.
What’s your experience with hyphens? Does their usage come easily to you, or is it something you struggle with?