To hyphenate or not to hyphenate

 

Today we’re discussing words with prefixes and whether we should hyphenate them. In general, English is moving away from hyphenation (it’s coworker, not co-worker, for instance), but there are some situations in which using the hyphen is the better course of action.

For this, I turned to the dog-eared, super-highlighted section 7.85 of my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, which is my go-to resource for style questions. (Word style, not fashion style—I can handle the latter part on my own. Hellooo, silver combat boots!)

Here’s what the book says about prefixes.
A hyphen should appear:
1)   Before a capitalized word or a numeral, such as sub-Saharan, pre-1950
2)   To separate two Is, two As, or two other same vowels, such as anti-intellectual, extra-alkaline
3)   To separate other combinations of letters or syllables that might cause misreading, such as pro-life

(There are a few more rules; however, these are the ones you’ll most often experience, so let’s keep our focus here. And, as always, there are exceptions to the rules above, but we’re discussing what you should generally do.)

So, according to rule 1, it would be prewar, but pre-WWII (because of the capitalization).

According to rule 2, it would be extrasmart, but extra-academic (because of having the two side-by-side letter As).

Rule 3 is where it gets tricky to me. It basically says, if you think not hyphenating a word may cause people to misread it, then use a hyphen. Well, that’s open to interpretation of what one thinks may lead to a misread. The rule, according to The Chicago Manual of Style is: when in doubt, check Merriam-Webster. This means, if a word is not hyphenated in that dictionary, don’t hyphenate it.

In the last book I edited, I had a conundrum with words starting with rein (so the prefix re- and a word that started with the letters I and N.) For example, this morning I looked up the word reinvest, as in “to invest again.” To me, I see this word as two words smushed together: rein and vest. It looks (to me) like a noun that means “a vest you wear with your reins.” Like: “I wore my reinvest so I didn’t fall off my horse.” But, of course, that’s not its meaning. Yet, the lords at Merriam-Webster think people won’t have a problem misreading that word, so it shouldn’t get a hyphen.

I might lose my grammar police badge for this, but in the last book I edited, I used my own judgment (in some cases) regarding hyphenation. I encourage you to do this, too. If you think readers will be confused if you don’t use a hyphen, then use a hyphen. (But don’t tell anyone I told you that.)

Quiz
Decide if each word should be hyphenated. Keep in mind rules 1 and 2 mentioned above. (We’re not even going to get into rule 3 here because, as I mentioned, it’s too open to interpretation.)

1)   hyper active
2)   neo natal
3)   post 1984
4)   hyper sonic
5)   inner Chicago
6)   anti inflammatory
7)   non violent
8)   over zealous
9)   mega ambient
10)  co author

Answers: 1) hyperactive 2) neonatal 3) post-1984 4) hypersonic 5) inner-Chicago 6) anti-inflammatory 7) nonviolent 8) overzealous 9) mega-ambient 10) coauthor

Here! Hear!

people toasting wine glasses

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

When you raise your glass after an impressive speech, do you say “Here, here!” or “Hear, hear!”?

The correct phrase is: Hear, hear! That is, unless someone is asking, “Who wants more wine?” Then you can say, “Here, here!” and pound your fists on the table.

“Hear, hear!” simply means “hear him” or “hear her” and is a sign of approval of the previous speaker.

Imbibing around the world
To add some cultural flair the next time you toast, try doing it in another language. Below is a sampling of toasts across the globe.

Danish: Skål!

Finnish: Kippis!

French: Santé

German: Prost!

Icelandic: Skál!

Italian: Salute!

Malay: Sihat selalu!

Polish: Na zdrowie!

Romanian: Noroc!

Spanish: ¡Salud!

Tagalog: Mabuhay!

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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Using brand names

Kleenex. Band-Aid. ChapStick. What do these words have in common? They are all trademarked. If you bought a store brand box of thingies to blow your nose into, you’re actually using facial tissues, not Kleenex. Likewise, if you rub something on your lips that doesn’t come in a tube labeled ChapStick, you’re using plain old lip balm.

JetSki, Google, Crock-Pot, Post-it—the list goes on.

What does this mean for your writing? Generally, it is okay to reference brand names in writing. The main point to remember is brand names need to be treated like other proper nouns. This means brand names should be capitalized. (Generic names do not require capitalization.)

Example: I had such a bad cold last week that I sneezed my way through three boxes of Kleenex.

However, be mindful of using brand names correctly. For instance, if you are writing a blog post about your nasty cold, you shouldn’t post a photo of you holding a box of facial tissues labeled “Joe Shmoe’s brand of facial tissues” and then reference the brand name Kleenex in a caption. If your post rockets in popularity, it’s possible the trademark police could come after you because brand names should be used to reference that particular brand only.

Here is a list of trademarks often thought to be generic (should be capitalized):
Band-Aid
Bubble Wrap
ChapStick
Crock-Pot
Frisbee
Google
Hacky Sack
Jacuzzi
Jeep
Kleenex
Kool-Aid
Memory Stick
Onesies
Popsicle
Post-it
Q-tip
Rollerblade
Scotch Tape
Sharpie
Styrofoam
Tupperware
Wite-Out

Want to learn more?
Mental Floss has a funny and informative blog post about trademarks at risk of becoming generic. Check it out.

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.

Examples
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)

Quiz
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

Number vs. amount

Lesson: when to use number and amount in sentences

The words number and amount are used in different situations.

Use number with things you can count (count nouns).

Use amount with things you can’t count (mass nouns).

For instance, you can count snakes, so snakes is a count noun. That means you would use the word number to go with them. Example: The number of snakes in this room is fifteen.

However, hatred is something you can’t count, since hatred is a mass noun. So you would use the word amount to go with it. Example: The amount of hatred I have for snakes has lessened.

Let’s look at a couple more examples:

Frida counted the number of marshmallows in the bag.
Frida measured the amount of sugar she needed for the recipe.

(Since Frida can count the marshmallows, we use number. Since she can’t count individual pieces of sugar, we use amount.)

For some extra help, here are examples of count nouns you would use number with and mass nouns you would use amount with:

number of cats amount of envy
number of paintings amount of sand
number of fried eggs amount of obsession
number of books amount of milk
number of bad grades amount of experience
number of salad bowls amount of news
number of nerds amount of failure
number of events amount of hilarity
number of aliases amount of water
number of bowel movements amount of urine

Quiz
Test your skills with this quiz. Fill in either number or amount in the blanks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Kenny feels proud about the _______ of pencils in his collection.
2. Stacy wondered the _______ of speeding tickets she could get before she went to jail.
3. Connie was alarmed at the _______ of violence in her neighborhood.
4. Lenny wants to know the _______ of marbles he can fit in his mouth.
5. Tracy walked out of class to protest the _______ of preference given to athletes.
6. Lacy underestimated the _______ of work it takes to be a marine biologist.

1. number 2. number 3. amount 4. number 5. amount 6. amount

Want more help with mass nouns?
Check out this Grammar Party post about using mass nouns.