December 30th, 2011
If you get confused about whether to hyphenate a two-word phrase, try using numbers to help you remember.
Take a look at these correctly hyphenated two-word phrases in orange and the underlined nouns that follow them:
As mobile phones become bodily appendages for people worldwide, they too are emerging as instruments to verify identity. Google introduced its two-step process earlier this year. It sends a six-digit code to an application on a Google user’s cellphone to be entered along with a password.
Here are those same nouns and phrases, rearranged and correctly typed with no hyphens:
The process has two steps, and the code has six digits.
The usual rule is that you hyphenate a two-word phrase when it comes before a noun, and you omit the hyphen when a phrase with two words follows a noun.
If you forget that “before, but not after” rule, try thinking of a two-word phrase that includes a number. You can follow your instincts and avoid the odd-looking and incorrect hyphen in “The process has two-steps.”
In contrast, the correct hyphen in “The two-step process” looks natural to most writers. That’s how numbers can help you remember how to use hyphens correctly.
Write It Well’s book Essential Grammar includes two chapters on punctuation. We’ve made all the book’s exercises available as a free download here to accompany the e-book, which is now available on Amazon.com!
Do you have an important document but not enough time to clarify your thoughts and double-check your punctuation and grammar? Just use Write It Well’s editing services to make sure your readers follow your ideas and respect your voice.