Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Bad

Your Reputation Hangs On Every Word

To Say It So It Sells, you need to Write It Right.  If you write for your job, then you may often find yourself petrified of punctuation or scared of subordinating conjunctions.  These short articles on specific grammar and punctuation points help make you a copyeditor of your own work.  The result is a final text that’s clear, clean, and professional.

Give me a call at 613-722-0129 or send me an e-mail message at  I’ll have the answer to all your questions on word mechanics.  For archives of my Grammar Goofs, view my blog at


Hyphenation Is Frustration

The hyphen is probably the most complicated punctuation mark of the lot, even more so than the pesky comma.  A number of problems contribute to the confusion.  First is the trend away from using the hyphen at all.  Second are the rules, which can be too complicated for people to know instinctively.   Third is that the many people never learn much about punctuation in the first place, let alone the use of the hyphen.

The most common use of the hyphen is in compound words.  But often the use of the hyphen is more a question of spelling than of punctuation.  Sometimes, usage changes form, so always consult a good, current dictionary.  Compound words are written in three ways:

  • Solid:  coastline, to overthrow
  • Open:  coast guard, to add on
  • Hyphenated:  coast-to-coast, one-liner, to mass-produce

The third group, the hyphenated words, poses the most problems.  But here’s a general rule.

  • If a compound word is used before a noun attributively (as a true adjective), it gets hyphenated.
  • If the compound word is used after the noun it modifies but retains its use as an adjective, it remains hyphenated.
  • If the compound word comes after the noun and does not perform as an adjective, then it loses its hyphenation.

Here’s an example:

The well-fed cattle all are happy in the pasture:  “Well-fed” is an adjective modifying “cattle.”

All the cattle in the pasture are well-fed:  “Well-fed” remains an adjective complement modifying “cattle.”

Before you leave for the weekend, make sure that the cattle are all well fed:  Here, “well-fed” is an adverbial phrase modifying the verb “to be.”

If you write for work and need to be careful with punctuation, do these theses things to help you out:

  • Consult a style or grammar resource book that has a section on hyphenation and compound words.
  • Consult a dictionary.
  • Develop a style sheet of your own so that you can apply the rules consistently.