Hyphens are here to help

Hands up if you’re sometimes unsure about when to use a hyphen. I know I was before I studied editing.

Here’s a tip: a hyphen removes ambiguity.


two monthly payments

two-monthly payments

The first could mean either two payments a month, or a payment every two months. The second is very clear.

The words two and monthly are working together to describe the payments. The hyphen shows this. It’s joining the words to make a compound adjective.

Where it can get confusing is when a pair of words is sometimes hyphenated and sometimes not.

The trick is to think about whether the pair of words is describing something (compound adjective)

I provide self-editing tips.

or is simply a thing (compound noun)

I provide tips for self editing.

It’s not a hard and fast rule, there are compound nouns that use hyphens (decision-making, daughter-in-law, two-year-old) but it’s a handy test. If the phrase is clear without the hyphen, then you don’t need it. Especially given the fashion is moving towards less punctuation.

Hope that helps.

If you want a bit more word-nerdery, you might be interested in this post about dangling modifiers (yes it’s a thing).

Or if you want to dig deeper into hyphenry (I made that up) you can’t go past Grammar Girl. Here’s a podcast of hers on the subject






Lu Sexton

Hello, I’m Lu Sexton. I’m an editor and writing coach. I’ve been working with writers like you since 2009 and I love it. My mission is to help you bring out the best in your writing and get you one step closer to being published.

My co-author Chris and I engaged Lu to copy-edit our manuscript, Courting Victory. Lu was able to bring together our writing styles (academic and journalistic) and to provide a broad range of editing suggestions that tightened up the manuscript, whilst keeping an eye on the detail.

Happily, Lu was able to return her edits ahead of schedule, giving Chris and I more time to discuss the changes and typeset the document.

Bret Salinger

Co-author of 'Courting Victory'
After getting eight quotes and four samples from Australian and American editors, I chose Lu Sexton … and I’m blown away with the results.

Lu didn’t just pick up grammatical errors and turns of phrase, she made a few clever suggestions for heightening the drama and comedy without losing my protagonist’s voice. I got back not just an improved manuscript, but a lesson in writing, customised just for me.

Ana Spoke

Author of 'Shizzle Inc'

I found Lu’s partnership invaluable in developing an information and marketing package for our potential clients. She has a rare ability to grasp complex concepts very quickly.  As a result she is able to  simplify, shape and develop supporting materials on any topic for any audience, and within a short timeframe.

Ami Cook

Chief Design Officer, MindNavig8or Pty Ltd