Writer Wednesdays: Hyphenating adverbs correctly

Adverbs are a pain in the butt. Do you hyphenate or not?

Here’s some basic rules:

1. Don’t hyphenate compound adjectives — modifiers — that contain adverbs. “He was a highly acclaimed actor,” not “highly-acclaimed.” Why? Because the -ly lets readers know this is an adverb — a modifier. It has to modify acclaimed. There is no chance for confusion. You don’t need the hyphen. Rule of thumb: If you see an -ly on a modifier, don’t hyphenate.

2. Do hyphenate ambiguous adverb modifiers. “He was a well-paid professional.” Why? Because certain adverbs (well, fast, etc.) can be adverbs or adjectives, and you could separate the two modifiers — he is well, and he is paid. So when you hyphenate “well” and “paid,” readers know “well” modifies “paid” — he is paid well.

3. Do not hyphenate adverbs after the noun. “He was well paid,” not “He was well-paid.” I can kind of see the idea — sometimes we use a phrase like, “He is thick-skinned,” and the “thick-skinned” seems almost like a single word, a single idea. But generally, no hyphen is needed.

4. Do not hyphenate when something modifies the compound modifier: “She is a very well paid doctor.” Why? I don’t know. This one stumps me, but them’s the rules.

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About alisaacarter

I am a writer of young adult novels, wife, mom of three, lover of animals, former magazine editor, reader of anything paranormal, and coffee fanatic.
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