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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pet Peeve: Adverbs and Hyphens



It's come to my peevish attention that hyphens are fast becoming the new scare quotes. In other words, people are suddenly confused about where hyphens are needed, and in a panic, they're inserting them all over the place. But here's a place where you don't need them:

between an -ly adverb and the word it modifies

First of all, a refresher course: An adverb is a word that modifies (i.e., describes) a verb or adjective. Adverbs often (but NOT always) end in -ly:

perfectly
nastily
swimmingly
knowingly

Now, no one seems to want to stick in a hyphen when these adverbs modify verbs, as in:

Dumbledore winked slyly.
Hermione calmly stowed her wand and climbed on Buckbeak's back.
Filch smiled nastily.

But for some reason, when the adverbs modify adjectives, hyphens are applied willy-nilly. There's no need. So:

The Triwizard Tournament includes three extremely dangerous tasks. (NOT: extremely-dangerous)
Ron had a perfectly good reason for avoiding the Forbidden Forest. (NOT: perfectly-good)
"Thanks for helping us fight those Death Eaters," said Harry to Neville. "That's awfully decent of you." (NOT: awfully-decent)
 "A poorly brewed potion will earn you a failing grade," Snape said. (NOT: poorly-brewed)

The confusion may have arisen because according to the venerable Chicago Manual of Style, adverbs that DON'T end in -ly (and thus, may be mistaken for some other kind of word) do take a hyphen:

"I must admit, Potter, that's a well-cast spell," said Professor Flitwick.

Because this isn't a grammar blog (anymore), I won't go into all the ins and outs of adverbs and adjectives, but you may certainly surf on over to The Grammar Girl  for more info. It won't bother me one bit.

Back to your studies now. You never know when a pop quiz may be in the offing.

Hyphen update: More, and perhaps clearer, info on the use of the hyphen is in this nifty infographic.


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