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Sam
May 19th, 2012, 01:42 PM
They're something you've seen dozens of times, but the reality is that even published authors get compound adjectives wrong from time to time. The following sentence should give you a clue about what I'm referring to:

The derelict red-brick building on the side of the road appeared to be empty. Six rifle-toting guards, however, patrolled the inner corridors in search of intruders. They were beginning an eight-week stint of security, at the end of which the place would be bustling with scientists of all ages and races. The highly trained guards, former military soldiers who had been dishonourably discharged, would eventually become permanent fixtures at the building.

A compound adjective is two words conjoined by a hyphen. By themselves, the two words don't make sense. When joined with a hyphen, however, they act on each other and take on a new meaning. Take, for instance, the first one. If that sentence began, "The derelict red brick building", it would be describing a building that was both painted red and made from brick. That's not what it describes. I wish to convey that the bricks are red, not the building. To do so, I insert a hyphen. This tells my reader that the building is made from red bricks.

"Rifle-toting". The word 'tote' is an informal way of saying that someone is carrying something. On its own -- "rifle toting" -- it reads as though the rifles were carrying the guards. With a hyphen, I'm establishing that all guards are carrying rifles. See how one omission can drastically alter the meaning of a piece? Once you learn that the two words are acting on each other to create, in theory, one complete word, figuring out their usage will become easy.

"Eight-week". Again, another word that acts on the one that preceded it. "I'm going on a two week vacation". So, you're going on two separate vacations, both of which last a week? I don't believe you are. You're going on a 'two-week' vacation. The same applies for days: "I'm taking a five-day leave". Or, "I'm taking a five-month leave". Most people -- in general, employers -- won't be as pedantic as an editor will, so you can get away with this mistake in your letter of request for a paid sabbatical. When it comes to creative writing -- academic, even more so -- it's important to get it right.

"Highly trained". Now we come to the problem that even published authors struggle with. Those two words are acting on each other; one modifies the other. That would dictate that they should be conjoined by a hyphen, wouldn't it? No. 'Highly' is an adverb. Adverbs are words that modify the next word in a sentence. "Stealthily moved", "skillfully created", etcetera. Putting a hyphen in is redundant and unnecessary. The confusion begins with something like this:

The computers had a daily-changing password to prevent being hacked.

Why is this different? Because 'daily' isn't an adverb. It's an adjective. Adjectives follow the above rule. Adverbs don't. That's where the confusion begins. Just consult your dictionary when making compound adjectives. If the word is an adverb, no hyphen.

Gamer_2k4
May 21st, 2012, 06:56 PM
Good stuff in general, but "daily" is very definitely an adverb. It's modifying a word that would be a verb if not for its position in the sentence.

squidtender
May 22nd, 2012, 06:00 PM
Good one, Sam. Told a writer friend of mine, so she could come read it. Probably the nerdiest thing I've done in awhile. LOL

Tiamat
May 23rd, 2012, 01:58 AM
Correction: The nerdiest thing you'll admit to doing in awhile, squidboy. ;)

Very informative article, though, Sam. It's one of those things that I've never really thought about--up until MS Word start autocorrecting me and deleting all my hyphens. (Pet Peeve #687) You're always full of useful tidbits of information. Perhaps I should pick your brain more? :P Thanks for sharing.

Cran
September 16th, 2012, 09:51 PM
Needs a rethink in places.


They're something you've seen dozens of times, but the reality is that even published authors get compound adjectives wrong from time to time. The following sentence should give you a clue about what I'm referring to:

The derelict red-brick building on the side of the road appeared to be empty. Six rifle-toting guards, however, patrolled the inner corridors in search of intruders. They were beginning an eight-week stint of security, at the end of which the place would be bustling with scientists of all ages and races. The highly trained guards, former military soldiers who had been dishonourably discharged, would eventually become permanent fixtures at the building.

A compound adjective is two words conjoined by a hyphen. By themselves, the two words don't make sense. When joined with a hyphen, however, they act on each other and take on a new meaning. Take, for instance, the first one. If that sentence began, "The derelict red brick building", it would be describing a building that was both painted red and made from brick.[no, only that it's red and has an association with brick - paint is one way to make a building red, but it is not the only interpretation] That's not what it describes. I wish to convey that the bricks are red, not the building. To do so, I insert a hyphen. This tells my reader that the building is made from red bricks.

"Rifle-toting". The word 'tote' is an informal way of saying that someone is carrying something. On its own -- "rifle toting" -- it reads as though the rifles were carrying the guards.[In context, it is "six rifle" - the number is an important modifier] With a hyphen, I'm establishing that all guards are carrying rifles. See how one omission can drastically alter the meaning of a piece? Once you learn that the two words are acting on each other to create, in theory, one complete word, figuring out their usage will become easy.

"Eight-week". Again, another word that acts on the one that preceded it. "I'm going on a two week vacation". So, you're going on two separate vacations, both of which last a week? [again, the number is key - "a" ..."vacation" - the mis-interpretation is spurious; possibly if one said, "I'm going on two weeks' vacation", although the singular noun - vacation - would still add clarity.] I don't believe you are. You're going on a 'two-week' vacation. The same applies for days: "I'm taking a five-day leave". Or, "I'm taking a five-month leave". Most people -- in general, employers -- won't be as pedantic as an editor will, so you can get away with this mistake in your letter of request for a paid sabbatical. When it comes to creative writing -- academic, even more so -- it's important to get it right.

"Highly trained". Now we come to the problem that even published authors struggle with. Those two words are acting on each other; one modifies the other. That would dictate that they should be conjoined by a hyphen, wouldn't it? No. 'Highly' is an adverb. Adverbs are words that modify the next word in a sentence. [Adverbs are words which modify verbs, and only verbs, regardless of relative placement] "Stealthily moved", "skillfully created", etcetera. Putting a hyphen in is redundant and unnecessary. The confusion begins with something like this:

The computers had a daily-changing password to prevent being hacked.

Why is this different? Because 'daily' isn't an adverb. [sorry; it is in this context - daily can be an adjective, an adverb or a noun - here it modifies changing, a verb] It's an adjective. Adjectives follow the above rule. Adverbs don't. That's where the confusion begins. Just consult your dictionary when making compound adjectives. If the word is an adverb, no hyphen.

Olly Buckle
May 14th, 2013, 07:35 AM
I see Cran caught "a two week holiday" rather than "two weeks' holiday".

These minor niggles caught me "military soldiers" (I suppose they might have been Christian soldiers), and, "Putting a hyphen in is redundant and unnecessary.", tautological; one of those words is redundant or unnecessary, but they are beside the valid point you are making. I sometimes wonder at what point the hyphen starts getting left out and who decides, I am pretty sure it is a 'Redbrick University' nowadays, it has never been now-a-days in my lifetime, but I bet it was because I can remember it being to-day when I was at school.

Rustgold
May 14th, 2013, 10:01 AM
"I'm going on a two week vacation". So, you're going on two separate vacations, both of which last a week? I don't believe you are. You're going on a 'two-week' vacation. The same applies for days: "I'm taking a five-day leave". Or, "I'm taking a five-month leave". Most people -- in general, employers -- won't be as pedantic as an editor will, so you can get away with this mistake in your letter of request for a paid sabbatical. When it comes to creative writing -- academic, even more so -- it's important to get it right.

There's a word you're forgetting to include in your analysis. 'A'. The 'a' makes it clear that this is a single vacation, not multiple vacations.

TheWritingWriter
May 15th, 2013, 04:51 AM
I have always wondered about the proper usage of hyphens when it came to compound adjectives, and I'll say, that this cleared up a LOT of confusion.

KindaNice
March 13th, 2014, 09:49 AM
Adverbs are words that modify the next word in a sentence. [Adverbs are words which modify verbs, and only verbs, regardless of relative placement]

My 8th grade (or would it be 8th-grade?) English teacher would disagree. (Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, and consider the sentence "She walked slowly.")

But more to the point, I don't remember my teacher talking about compound adjectives. Is this a fairly significant grammar error, like something an editor would catch? I don't believe I often see compound adjectives while reading, but I may not be looking closely enough.

Also, I'm tempted to argue the semantics on each example you use because it's late and I like arguing, but I shouldn't. It seems like the hyphen could possibly, slightly clarify the meaning for some reader one day, but I have trouble imagining anyone reading the phrase "six rifle toting guards" and thinking of guards who carry six rifles each.

Sam
March 13th, 2014, 10:23 AM
You do see compound adjectives; you don't notice them. They're designed to remove ambiguity from sentences. For instance:

A heavy metal detector.

A heavy-metal detector.

Two sentences and two completely different meanings. One might argue that the first sentence requires a comma after 'heavy', but since the words act on each other it isn't strictly necessary.

They were three stone weaklings.

They were three-stone weaklings.

What's a 'stone weakling'? We're trying to convey that we had weaklings who weighed three stone, not that there are three people who are 'stone weaklings'.

Your eighth-grade (yes, that's a compound adjective) English teacher won't be telling you about compound adjectives because they don't expect 14- or 15-year-olds to understand or ever use them correctly. It's an advanced writing technique that you'll use in further education.

Cran
March 13th, 2014, 02:06 PM
My 8th grade (or would it be 8th-grade?) English teacher would disagree. I doubt it.

(Adverbs can modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs, and consider the sentence "She walked slowly.")

Yes, let's do that. "She walked slowly." She (Subject pronoun) walked (verb past tense) slowly (adverb modifying the verb preceding it)
And what did I say? [Adverbs are words which modify verbs, and only verbs, regardless of relative placement]

You've proven my point, not yours. Thank you.

That said, you are in fact correct; modifiers of adverbs and adjectives are also called adverbs* in common English grammar. There are no restrictions on the relative placement of the adverb. "She walked slowly" = "She slowly walked"


*modifiers of adverbs and adjectives - I was taught these to be adjunctives (or adjunctive modifiers)

Gamer_2k4
March 13th, 2014, 04:20 PM
Yes, let's do that. "She walked slowly." She (Subject pronoun) walked (verb past tense) slowly (adverb modifying the verb preceding it)
And what did I say? [Adverbs are words which modify verbs, and only verbs, regardless of relative placement]

You've proven my point, not yours. Thank you.

That said, you are in fact correct; modifiers of adverbs and adjectives are also called adverbs* in common English grammar. There are no restrictions on the relative placement of the adverb. "She walked slowly" = "She slowly walked"

*modifiers of adverbs and adjectives - I was taught these to be adjunctives (or adjunctive modifiers)

No, he proved his point. You were partially right, yes, but your use of the word "only" was what made you incorrect. It would be like if I said, "Needles are used for vaccinations, and only vaccinations." Are they used for vaccinations? You bet. However, that's not the ONLY thing they're used for, so the statement is wrong.

Now, I hadn't heard of the word "adjunctive" until today, but a Wikipedia search (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adjunct_(grammar)) seems to indicate it refers to something more general than what you're saying. Just for clarity, here are two examples of what KindaNice (and I) would consider an adverb.

He runs really quickly.
I write with a bright yellow pencil.

Note that "really" is modifying the adverb "quickly," not the verb "run." You are not running "really;" you are running "quickly." Similarly, it is not the pencil that is bright; it's the color yellow.

Adjuncts, on the other hand, seem to be phrases (often prepositional phrases) that modify the sentence as a whole.

I watched the Brewers play at Miller Park.

An adjunct is a part of the sentence, like a subject or a predicate. It's not a part of speech in the same way that nouns, interjections, conjunctions, etc. are, but rather a description of a clause.

The young boy ran quickly back home.

Hopefully this helps clear things up; at the very least, I know I learned something, so thank you both for that.

Cran
March 13th, 2014, 04:56 PM
To prove the point, KindaNice needed to use an example such yours - in the original example provided, the adverb modified, and only modified, the verb.


World English Dictionary
adjunct (ˈędʒʌŋkt)
— n
1. something incidental or not essential that is added to something else
2. a person who is subordinate to another
3. grammar
a. part of a sentence other than the subject or the predicate
b. (in systemic grammar) part of a sentence other than the subject, predicator, object, or complement; usually a prepositional or adverbial group
c. part of a sentence that may be omitted without making the sentence ungrammatical; a modifier
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins

Gumby
March 13th, 2014, 05:25 PM
This is very interesting, though I'm not going to pretend that I completely follow. In fact, at this point in the discussion, my head is officially spinning. But I do enjoy the 'word-play' (did I get that right?)

My twisted sense of humor is seeing a new Reality Show in the making...'When Pedants Attack!' :)

Gamer_2k4
March 13th, 2014, 05:34 PM
This is very interesting, though I'm not going to pretend that I completely follow. In fact, at this point in the discussion, my head is officially spinning. But I do enjoy the 'word-play' (did I get that right?)

My twisted sense of humor is seeing a new Reality Show in the making...'When Pedants Attack!' :)

It's "wordplay," sorry. <_<

Gumby
March 13th, 2014, 06:01 PM
Ha! Teach me to dip my toes in the big boy pool. :) *scurries back to the shallow end*

KindaNice
March 13th, 2014, 08:28 PM
To prove the point, KindaNice needed to use an example such yours - in the original example provided, the adverb modified, and only modified, the verb.


Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins

I'm sorry, I was trying to respond to two statements about adverbs and wasn't being very clear. I meant my example ("She walks slowly.") to show the statement,

Adverbs are words that modify the next word in a sentence.
was wrong, because 'slowly' is modifying 'walks' which isn't the next word, but the word before. Another example I should have included to make myself clearer would be something like "I give very bad examples."


You do see compound adjectives; you don't notice them. They're designed to remove ambiguity from sentences. For instance:

A heavy metal detector.

A heavy-metal detector.

Two sentences and two completely different meanings. One might argue that the first sentence requires a comma after 'heavy', but since the words act on each other it isn't strictly necessary.

They were three stone weaklings.

They were three-stone weaklings.

What's a 'stone weakling'? We're trying to convey that we had weaklings who weighed three stone, not that there are three people who are 'stone weaklings'.

Your eighth-grade (yes, that's a compound adjective) English teacher won't be telling you about compound adjectives because they don't expect 14- or 15-year-olds to understand or ever use them correctly. It's an advanced writing technique that you'll use in further education.

Okay, the heavy-metal example is fairly ambiguous, and I am now sold on compound adjectives.

Cran
March 13th, 2014, 08:37 PM
I guess this also illustrates both regional and generational differences in the teaching of English and grammar; certainly the decade following mine in Oz had very different priorities in curricula.

Bilston Blue
March 13th, 2014, 08:51 PM
To prove the point, KindaNice needed to use an example such yours - in the original example provided, the adverb modified, and only modified, the verb.

My desire to be as clear and precise as possible and thus to understand others with similar clarity, in addition to my extreme pedantry, requires me to ask the following questions:

Did the adverb only modify the verb? Or did the adverb modify only the verb?

Cran
March 13th, 2014, 09:01 PM
Did the adverb only modify the verb? Or did the adverb modify only the verb?
in the original example provided,both - the adverb only modified the verb (ie, did nothing else to it) and the adverb modified only the verb (ie, did not modify any other part of the sentence).

Bilston Blue
March 14th, 2014, 10:44 AM
I return now not as a pedant, but as someone who thinks he has come to understand hyphenation over time after being quite ignorant of its importance when I first took writing seriously.

Have I got this right (from an excerpt of a work in progress):


...for to do so would mean having to run the gauntlet of the oversized HD TV screens and their too-loud surround sound systems and the cheering and no doubt beer-soaked crowds glued to the TVs' technicoloured, mood-swinging, atmosphere-altering, allegiance-testing, almost mind-controlling output.

In my initial draft I had for some reason used the first two hyphens, but left out the last four. Still something I'm learning on I suppose. But aren't we always learning?

Cran
March 14th, 2014, 11:55 AM
and if you didn't get the punctuation exactly the way you wanted it, you might end up with:


... and no doubt beer soaked crowds glued to the TVs' technicoloured mood, swinging atmosphere, altering allegiance, testing almost-mind; controlling output.