Compound Modifiers with Words Ending in -ly

doughnuts with pink and blue accents

We’re also talking about doughnuts today because why wouldn’t we?

A compound modifier consists of two words that act together as one unit to modify a noun.

Here are some examples:

The sweet-smelling doughnut made my tummy grumble.
(Here sweet and smelling work as one unit to describe the noun doughnut.)

He had to wash his mud-covered ninja outfit.
(Mud and covered work together to explain the noun outfit.)

Their favorite wand was the glitter-speckled one.
(Glitter and speckled are one unit modifying the noun one.)

You’ll notice that in the examples above, all of the word sets are hyphenated: sweet-smelling, mud-covered, glitter-speckled. But there are times when the word sets aren’t hyphenated.

Compound Modifiers Ending in -ly
Compound modifiers that include an adverb ending in the suffix -ly do not get hyphenated. Why is this? Here is how The Chicago Manual of Style (the rulebook people use to edit books) explains it in section 7.86:

Compounds formed by an adverb ending in -ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun, since ambiguity is virtually impossible. (The -ly ending with adverbs signals to the reader that the next word will be another modifier, not a noun.)

For the non-editors reading this, what that means is the reader will know instinctually that the word coming after the -ly is working with the -ly word to describe something. So it doesn’t need the hyphen to help readers understand it is a word pair.

Now let’s look at some examples:

The cowboy sauntered into the dimly lit saloon.
(Dimly and lit both work together to explain saloon. But since dimly ends in -ly, it doesn’t use a hyphen. A reader should automatically understand lit goes with dimly.)

The professor’s terrifyingly large stack of papers to grade made him anxious.
(Here terrifyingly and large work together but do not require a hyphen to link them.)

His awkwardly long tie made people question his fashion sense.
(Awkwardly works with long and does not need a hyphen.)

Now you know when to use your trusty hyphen with compound modifiers. Go forth and hyphenate correctly!

Erin Servais has been slinging hyphens as a book editor for ten years. To learn more about her and how to hire her for your book project, go to her website:


Straight vs. strait

straight (adjective): free from curves, bends, angles, or irregularities
straight (adverb): in a straight manner  
strait (noun): 1) a comparatively narrow passageway connecting two large bodies of water; 2) a situation of perplexity or distress

When determining whether to use straight or strait, remember: strait is usually a noun, but straight can be an adjective or an adverb. This means straight works with nouns and verbs to describe them.

Examples of straight:
1. Morris has straight teeth.
2. Morris walks straight to the dentist.

In the first example, straight is an adjective that works with the noun teeth. In the second example, straight is an adverb that works with the verb walks.

Examples of strait:
1. The boat barely fit through the strait.
2. The crew was in dire straits when the boat started to sink.

In both examples, strait is a noun. The first example uses the first definition of the word. The second example uses the second definition of the word.

A note about jackets
The word for the white, strappy device used to restrain people is commonly misspelled. It is spelled: straitjacket. Also note that it is one word.

Fill in the blank with either straight or strait. The answers are at the bottom.

1. The negative balance in Liz’s checking account showed she was in desperate financial _______s.
2. It took less time to run the _______ path than the curvy one.
3. Liz ran ______ to the candy shop.
4. The ship sailed _______ through the _______.
5. The men forced the patient into a _______jacket.


1. strait (second definition) 2. straight (adjective) 3. straight (adverb) 4. straight (adverb), strait (first definition) 5. strait


Capitalizing Titles of Works

Some people prefer to capitalize each word of a title. But, if you need to learn the rules of the “up and down” style of titles, here is a guide.

Section 8.157 of The Chicago Manual of Style lays out rules:

  1. Capitalize first and last words
  2. Capitalize nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs
  3. Lowercase articles the, a, and an
  4. Lowercase prepositions (of, in, to, for, with, on, at, over, between, around, etc.)
  5. Lowercase conjunctions and, but, for, or, and nor

Note: These are only the basic rules. However, these are likely the only ones you’ll need.
Preposition list: For a longer list of English prepositions, click here.

Let’s run through some examples. I’ll explain why I capitalized or lowercased each word.

1. Vampires Suck Blood from a Young Woman.

  • I capitalized Vampires and Woman because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
  • I capitalized Suck because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Young because it’s an adjective. (rule 2)
  • I lowercased a because it’s an article. (rule 3)
  • I lowercased from because it’s a preposition. (rule 4)

2. The Mating Habits of Mutants

  • I capitalized The and Mutants because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
  • I capitalized Mating it’s an adjective. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Habits because it’s a noun. (rule 2)
  • I lowercased of because it’s a preposition. (rule 4)

3. The Unicorn Who Forgot His Knife

  • I capitalized The and Knife because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
  • I capitalized Unicorn because it’s a noun. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Forgot because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Who and His because they are pronouns. (rule 2)

4. Four Snakes and Rats Played Nicely Together

  • I capitalized Four and Together because they are the first and last words. (rule 1)
  • I capitalized Snakes and Rats because they’re nouns. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Played because it’s a verb. (rule 2)
  • I capitalized Nicely because it’s an adverb. (rule 2)
  • I lowercased and because it’s a conjunction. (rule 5)

Test your skills with a quiz. Below you will see titles with every word lowercased. Rewrite each title with the correct words capitalized. The answers are below.

1. young boy caught farting in class
2. crazy cat and the dumb dog
3. swarm of grandmothers brazenly pinch cheeks at noon
4. ten clouds turn pink
5. the curious way the sea monster eats her food in the ocean

Answers: 1. Young Boy Caught Farting in Class 2. Crazy Cat and the Dumb Dog 3. Swarm of Grandmothers Brazenly Pinch Cheeks at Noon 4. Ten Clouds Turn Pink 5. The Curious Way the Sea Monster Eats Her Food in the Ocean