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Wordsmithing: Can You Be A Well Known Author?

Sorry, but you can’t. Nor can you be a well paid author. Unless, you make one little change.

Of course, I’m speaking about wordsmithing here. Please, retain your dream of rising to the top of The New York Times bestseller list. Which, ahem, would indicate wordsmithing skills in addition to talent, right?

So, one simple little change—that’s all we’re talking about. Stick with me.

All you need is a hyphen. No, really.

You want to be a well-known author, and, of course, a well-paid one. But that’s only if those words are placed in front of “author.” If you write, “I want to be an author who is well-known and well-paid,” you’d get knocked down a grade in Wordsmithing 101. That’s because you’re placing well-known and well-paid after “author” instead of in front of it. Yep, to be correct, you would write, “I want to be a well-known and well-paid author” (hyphenated), or, as an alternative, “I want to be an author who is well known and well paid” (not hyphenated).

What we’re talking about here (in grammar lingo) are nouns and the adjectives that describe them. If two or more words work together as a unit (a phrase) to describe a noun, you simply hyphenate them when they’re placed in front of the noun: a dog-eat-dog world, a not-so-good idea, a small-animal hospital. You don’t hyphenate the phrase when it is placed after the noun: a world that is dog eat dog, an idea that’s not so good, a hospital for small animals.

Location, location, location
This is the key to success in selling real estate—and in punctuating phrasal adjectives. Go ahead, raise your hand in Wordsmithing 101 and give your answer with ever-so-pleasing confidence. Er, except—

Of course there are exceptions!
C’mon, gut them out with me! There are only three.

  1. The easy-peasy one: If the phrase begins with a proper name, don’t hyphenate it. Example: the Tea Party movement strategy (not the Tea-Party-movement strategy).
  2. The harder one: If a two-word phrase begins with an-ly adverb, don’t hyphenate it. Example: a sharply spoken word (not a sharply-spoken word). Notice I said two-word phrase.  A “not-so-sharply-spoken word” is hyphenated because the phrase contains more than two words.
  3. The hardest “this-is-why-grammar-makes-you-scream” one: There is no rock-solid consensus among editors. Some prefer eliminating all hyphens except those necessary for clarification. For example, if an animal hospital is small, it’s a “small animal-hospital.” But if it’s a hospital for small animals only (don’t bring in your backyard elephant), it’s a “small-animal hospital.” The golden rule here is that editors reign. Learn what they want and do it.

Otherwise, practice good grammar etiquette. Hyphenate phrasal adjectives in front of a noun and don’t hyphenate them after the noun. Yes, one more wordsmithing skill conquered is one more rung up that ladder to the top!

Well, you asked!
Elaine C. asked: Is it okay to use a hyphen to connect two sentences? If so, how do you know when to use it? Example: Meet me at Target today – I’ll be there around 1:00.
Steph: Hyphens never eat their spinach, so they don’t have the strength to connect sentences. Their big sister Em Dash (who looks like two connected hyphens) is the one with that kind of power. Em is a versatile gal—she often substitutes for other punctuation in the sentence, usually commas, parentheses, and colons. If you insert dear Em in your example, she functions to amplify information you could have enclosed in parentheses. “Meet me at Target—I’ll be there at 1:00” is an alternative to “Meet me at Target (I’ll be there at 1:00).” Notice that using a dash gives an assertive voice to the amplified information, whereas using parentheses is more like a whispered aside. Warning: Both hyphens and dashes get vertigo when you put empty spaces on either side of them. Don’t do it. The by-products aren’t pretty.

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