Adjectives and Adverbs

Rule 7:
Use hyphenated compound adjectives
as single modifiers.

A compound adjective is a group of words that provides a single description of a noun that follows. Use hyphens between the words to make the words appear as a single unit. Thus, proper hyphenation of compound adjectives increases understanding and speeds the reader along.


• The Small Business Administration approved a small-business loan for $2 million.
• He said that the large-appliance industry has been weakened by the recent economic depression.
• His "better-late-than-never" attitude kept him from hearing the opening remarks of many meetings.

Each compound adjective in these sentences provides a single description of the noun that follows it, regardless of whether the adjective has two, three, or more words in it. The decision to place a hyphen between two words or to leave the hyphen out will often have a significant effect on the meaning of a sentence.


• We need more qualified workers. (We need what? Great numbers of qualified workers.)
• We need more-qualified workers. (We need what? Workers who are more qualified than the workers we have now.)
• The large appliance industry is suffering. (Which industry? The appliance industry, which is large.)
• The large-appliance industry is suffering. (Which industry? The industry that produces large appliances.)

Hyphenated compound adjectives are used only before nouns. When they come after nouns, they are not hyphenated.


• The up-to-date report was submitted on time. (comes before the noun)
• The report was up to date. (comes after the noun)
• It was a well-written report. (comes before the noun)
• The report was well written. (comes after the noun)

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