If you’re here looking for the simple answer to this simple question, here goes:
That was easy, wasn’t it? But, since you probably asked that question because what you were taught before contradicts what you’re being taught now, let me clarify the ins and outs of this particular writing rule.
Ah, the hyphen. As one of the world’s most ambiguous bits of punctuation, the hyphen has become the source of confusion, despair, and bone-rattling terror for writers around the world. But the mystery of the hyphen is far from impenetrable – and by understanding why we use this little dash, you’ll get a much better sense of how to use it.
The Basics of the Hyphen
Let’s start with the core function of hyphens: The hyphen clarifies modifiers.
Update: I’m still tracking down the original image, but this error seems to be an epidemic in the cake-making industry. Another recent birthday celebration I attended had a similar issue. The birthday girl allowed me to punctuate her cake — in red frosting, even!
On Saturday, I spent time with my family watching the new Narnia film and going to a Pirate-themed restaurant where my father kept trying to talk in Pirate lingo. We also had a special guest: Henry, a family friend, who happened to be celebrating his birthday.
Perhaps normal people have understandable phobias and pet peeves. As an excessively dedicated writer, however, we have only warped versions of either. To us, this is warped in its best possible sense. For example, we cringe—no, we get a little physically ill—every time someone uses the word “alot” with me.
Of course, the major reason we have such a reaction to this word is that the only way this makes sense is if you’re referring to the mythical creature known as an alot (created by our friend at Hyperbole and a Half to help them cope with the same pain). Therefore, “I care about this alot” turns into: