Saturday, October 5, 2013

Does this need a hyphen?

Whether something is one word, two words, or hyphenated, often drives writers crazy. Is it goodbye or good-bye? Fairy tale? Fairytale? Or fairy-tale?

A quick way to check is to go to

It has 18 hits for good-bye and 23 for goodbye. A good rule of thumb is to go with the majority, so in this case, that’s goodbye. However, Merriam Webster is one of the 18 for good-bye and since many companies use Merriam Webster as their dictionary of choice, here, good-bye is an equally good pick.

Fairy tale is even worse. There are 11 hits on fairy tale, 8 on fairy-tale, and 17 on fairytale. And in this case Merriam Webster has it hyphenated, so any of the three is a reasonable choice.

My advice would be 1. Stick with the majority. Or 2. Stick with Merriam Webster. That is, unless you are targeting your book for a certain publisher. In that case always follow their style guide.

Do I hear you asking, “What about compound adjectives? Why is it a red-hot fire, but a brightly lit room?”
Now that one is easy. Words ending in ly are (usually) adverbs. By definition an adverb can never be a compound adjective.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

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