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Grammar Police Monday - Working Girls

I came across an error while reading a published novel the other day, and (after I quit chuckling) I decided it was time to do a grammar post on hyphens.

I had avoided this topic in the past because it is so complex. So, instead of trying to teach you every rule, I'm going to touch on a few, and then give you links to resources that will tackle the rest.

I'm sure you've heard the joke: Commas save lives (Let's eat, Grandma. vs Let's eat Grandma.). Silly as it is, it impresses upon us how much a simple mark of punctuation can drastically alter the meaning of a sentence. The same goes for hyphens.

The error that had me chuckling was this:

"[You're] smart, pretty, funny, sweet, and the hardest working girl I've ever met[.]"

Oh really?  0_o

The line was meant as a compliment, but without a hyphen, it's an insult.

As you've probably deduced, without the hyphen, hard modifies working girl. With the hyphen, hard-working modifies girl.

Though there are exceptions (such as when the first word ends in -ly), the general rule of thumb is: hyphenate two adjectives when they come before the noun they modify and act as a single idea.

Now, if we write That girl is very hard working, we don't need a hyphen, because the adjectives come after the noun they modify.

Compound nouns often use hyphens, too. To determine whether a compound noun is written as one word, two words, or is hyphenated, consult a dictionary. They aren't always written as you think. The examples given by are eyewitness, eye shadow, and eye-opener.

The form compound words take can also depend on their function in the sentence. Ex: Break+down is written as one word when used as a noun, but it is written as two words when used as a verb.

Engines break down; they will eventually suffer a breakdown.

For other hyphen uses, see C.S. Lakin's post, in which she gives a link to the Chicago Manual of Style's hyphen rules chart (a downloadable PDF).


That's all for today.
Thanks for visiting. :)


  1. Good point. I probably would've missed that.

    1. I'm still honing my hyphen skills, too.

      I was thinking about this and realized that, when hearing someone say it, the listener would assume the hyphen from context. But in the written version, the mistake becomes obvious.

  2. I probably would have missed it too but it's a funny mistake. Yikes! :D

  3. That's why I shy away from avoid such disasters :)

    Great tip!

  4. You're so helpful. :) I never would have caught that one.

  5. Great tips on remember a few ways to use hyphens. Thanks!

  6. Another classic and the pictures were perfect :)

    PS... hope you had a great time with your Dad :)

  7. Yeah, you got to be careful with hyphenated words! I've caught more than one glaring mistake in my own work. Nothing like hard working girl vs. hard-working girl, though.

  8. LOL. That made me laugh. But so true that it's a great idea to keep an eye on that sort of thing!

  9. LOL! Definitely important to get this one right... ;-)

  10. what an awesome reminder! my wonderful editor showed me how many thousand places i needed hyphens and commas!
    will think of this example every time i wonder if i need one!

  11. Hyphens confuse the heck out of me, but things just got a little clearer thanks to your post! I will definitely remember your catchy examples. :)
    And thank you for the hyphen rules link!

  12. I didn't know hard working girl would mean that. I'll be more careful with those. :)

  13. Hard or hardest is actually an adverb here though... i.e. HOW she was working... just to be super pedantic


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