A long and twisted tale.

Grammar Matters

At times it seems that every time I look closely at something I have created, I see or learn something that could be refined, improved or corrected.
Grammar is no small factor in this process.

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate?
To include a comma or not to include a comma?
Which works best passive voice or active voice?

Do these things have rules that must be obeyed or else become revelations of ignorance?
Is there some latitude or might some things be a matter of preference?

The following are some interesting technicalities:


Generally, hyphenate two or more words when they come before a noun they modify and act as a single idea. This is called a compound adjective.

Example: bell-tipped hat

When a compound adjective follows a noun, a hyphen is usually not necessary.

Example: his hat was bell tipped


An often overlooked rule for hyphens: adverbs ending in ly are not hyphenated.

Incorrect: neatly-bearded knohm

This rule applies only to adverbs.
The following two examples are correct because the ly words are not adverbs:

Correct: the friendly-looking dog
Correct: a family-owned cafe


When you use a string of adjectives, you often separate the adjectives with commas; sometimes, though, you don’t use a comma between two adjectives. 

Coordinate adjectives need a comma.
These are adjectives that each separately modify the noun that follows.

Example: big, fat man

Both “big” and “fat” modify “man”.
You can rearrange the adjectives and say, “fat, big man”.
You can also put the “and” between the adjectives and the sentence still works.

Example: big and fat man

Cumulative adjectives don’t separately modify the noun that follows.
Instead, the adjective right before the noun pairs with the noun as a unit, and then adjectives before that unit modify that.

Example: small stone house

Here “stone” modifies “house”—they become a unit—and then “small” modifies “stone house”.

If you try to rearrange the adjectives as we did for “big, fat man,” you’ll run into a problem. The phrase “stone small house” is awkward, and it’s awkward precisely because you can’t rearrange cumulative adjectives.

If you are not sure add the word “and” between the adjectives. If the phrase makes sense, the adjectives are coordinate; if not, they’re cumulative. For example, “He’s a big and fat man” makes good sense but “It’s a small and stone house” does not.



By all means leave me a comment if you think that I am missing anything on these matters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s