Common writer mistakes #5

Welcome back to another Common Writer Mistakes! This time is over:

#5 – Misusing hyphens

Besides the “gray” with an a vs “grey” with an e battle, there’s one common spelling error that I’ve noticed while editing: hyphens.

Sometimes writers believe the word needs a hyphen when it doesn’t. Or they forget the hyphen when they actually need one. It could depend on how the writer uses the word as well.

Usually when describing something (adjective), the word needs a hyphen. But by itself (noun), it doesn’t need a hyphen. For example: “I enjoyed the fairy tale” and “She lives a fairy-tale life” are both correct. I’ve run across plenty of examples like that, which can get confusing.

Luckily, there’s one easy solution for this.

If you double guess a word for even one second, pull up Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. If you already have a hyphen in the word, pull up Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. You’d be surprised.

Even I, as a writer and editor, have the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary open all the time. It might not be the dictionary you use, but it is the dictionary recommended by many editors in the industry.

Here’s a few common ones that I’ve seen:

  • Brand-new not brandnew
  • Goodbye not good-bye
  • Good night not good-night or goodnight
  • Homemade not home-made
  • Makeup not make-up
  • Nonstop not non-stop
  • Well-being not well being

To also help, here’s a small list of hyphenated words that may be a surprise:

  • Big-city (as an adjective)
  • E-mail (as a noun)
  • High-risk
  • In-depth
  • Part-time
  • Old-fashioned
  • On-site
  • Short-term
  • Small-town (as an adjective)

Since I’ve paid more attention to hyphens, I’ve realized how many times I make mistakes with them. They’re tricky words. Always double check.

(By the way, it’s “gray” with an a if you’re from America, and “grey” with an e if you’re from Britain.)

I hope this helps!

#1 – Using multiple adjectives
#2 – Vagueness for tension
#3 – Repeating words for emphasis
#4 – Common misused words


16 thoughts on “Common writer mistakes #5

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