Tag Archive for: hyphenation

Tax-exempt is exempt from this rule

Generally, one hyphenates compound modifiers that precede a noun, but not when the compound modifiers follow the noun. That means you’d write

  • Low-cost mutual fund
  • A mutual fund that’s low cost

Breaking the rule

That rule has been drummed into me, so I was surprised to read the following in Jan Venolia’s Write Right!: “Idiomatic usage retains the hyphen in certain compounds regardless of the order in which they appear in the sentence.” Venolia uses the following example:

Tax-exempt bonds can be purchased.

The bonds are tax-exempt.

One of my friends “corrected” me on social media when I posted asking examples of more words like “tax-exempt” that are hyphenated even when they follow a noun. I would have done the same thing before I read Venolia’s book.

Style guides and the dictionary

I searched APStylebook.com, which told me to follow the dictionary in hyphenating “tax-exempt.” AP style follows the Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which uses a hyphen.

Similarly, a Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) blog says, “For matters of spelling, including hyphenation, Chicago usually defers to the first-listed entries in Merriam-Webster.” That blog post also says there are times that CMOS doesn’t follow the dictionary, as shown in the image below.



Are you confused?

Have these exceptions confused you? They sure as heck confuse me. That’s why I subscribe to the online AP Stylebook, and I’ve added on an online subscription to Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

If you find some hyphen questions arise repeatedly, add them to your firm’s style guidelines.


Disclosure: If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Spelling tip: When in doubt, close it up

Spelling challenges many of us. To make things more complicated, correct spelling changes over time, as discussed in the “Anticipate The Future” chapter of Wired Style: Principles of English Usage in the Digital Age.

I like the rule proposed in this chapter:  “When in doubt, close it up.” The authors suggest that instead of separating or hyphenating newer terms such as “videogame” or “desktop,” close up the space to spell them as one word.

The book gives three reasons for doing this.

  1. “The way of the Net is not a hyphenated way.”
  2. Save a Keystroke is another style commandment rooted in the way of the Net.”
  3. “We know from experience that new terms often start as two words, then become hyphenated, and eventually end up as one word.”

Another reason to “close up” commonly used terms is to make them easier for the reader to absorb. In the financial realm, I write “outperform” instead of “out-perform,” as I’ve discussed in an earlier post.

Of course, you shouldn’t close up every new term. Remember, the rule says “When in doubt.” To keep yourself from going overboard, google the term to see what spelling is most common. You can also look at trusted role models, such as The Wall Street Journal. I did this when I felt tempted to write glidepath as one word. I ended up keeping the two words separate, bowing to popular usage.

What words would YOU like to close up?


Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I link only to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.