Well, no, it doesn’t work that way

Even the sticklers who can spot a stray apostrophe a mile off may struggle over when to use a hyphen.

But help is at hand for those who are unsure of where to put one.

A study of more than 10,000 words, including hyphens, has found that four basic rules will work 75 per cent of the time.

No, not really

If word is a verb, adjective or adverb, it probably needs hyphen (like chain-smoke)

If second part has more letters, it should be spelt as one word (like coastline)

Line has more letters than coast does it?

But more than that, what requires the hyphen changes over time. Two separate words, then with the hyphen, then the migration to the one word. Sure, English doesn’t quite do as German, sticking old words together at the drop of a hat to describe some new thing. Nor does it do as Russian (say) seemingly inventing a new word for every new occurrence. Rather, we do a bit of both, and that agglutinating (?) is something that happens over time, decades.

You know, market system, try things out, see what flies, adopt what works?

6 comments on “Well, no, it doesn’t work that way

  1. A better rule: always use a hyphen when doing so makes the sentence easier to understand. Otherwise don’t.

  2. sigh, really Tim,

    it’s co-astline

    one of two or more astlines operating together

  3. aaa has it in one.

    An illuminating quote on hyphens from Fowler:

    ‘Bach’s 200-odd cantatas’ vs ‘Bach’s 200 odd cantatas’.

    And who is this wretched foreigner poking her nose into English usage? Hasn’t she got anything better to do?

  4. ‘If second part has more letters, it should be spelt as one word (like coastline)’

    Line has more letters than coast does it?

    Now read what was written…

    ‘…the rule is easy – use a hyphen only when the second word has two letters.

    If the second part of the word has more than two letters, it should be spelt as a single word, like coastline or bedroom.’

    See? Line has more than two letters.

  5. The main thing that irritates me is people using hyphenated-adjective-phrases as nouns. It’s not “she was three-years-old”, it’s “she was three years old” (did you hear bashing the space bar there?) or “she was a three-year-old something”. Don’t these idiots even have an internal monlogue to guide what they’re actually commiting to type?

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