When I had boarded and settled in for a recent flight, I reached for the airline magazine in the back-of-the-seat pouch in front of me.
True to form for this ruthless editor, I selected articles for not only enjoyment, but also for illumination, keeping my grammar radar on high alert: How do other writers use words and punctuation?
Two articles — one about Pioneertown, a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles, and one about Fishtown, a residential area not far from Philadelphia’s historic district — were packed with examples of well-crafted, rich descriptions of American burgs and the colorful locals who inhabit them.
Narrowing my focus, I became acutely aware of the number of compound modifiers used throughout.
As I mentioned in a recent post about the short quiz I use when promoting my grammar book events, hyphens create compound modifiers. Do you recall “The seminar is for small business owners” versus “The seminar is for small-business owners”?
There were loads of compound modifiers in the two stories in front to me. Because examples instruct so well, I’m listing some here. Imagine some of the modifiers without the hyphen. Can you see how hyphens add clarity?
a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles
a cup of high-octane coffee
a well-worn Formica counter
a pair of steel-toed boots
his working-class roots
the top-floor music venue
a whole-animal butchery
the ever-present sound of the overhead train
a tight-knit community
old-school machine shops and older-school bars
a cash-only shot-and-beer joint
a high-end Italian restaurant
the whiskey-blending factory
a down-to-earth approach
largely blue-collar residential neighborhoods
a settlement of fully functional Western-style buildings
Note in the last two examples that modifiers ending in ly don’t require a hyphen: largely blue-collar residents, fully functional buildings.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, whether you write for business or pleasure, reading well-written pieces by others can inspire and instruct. How often do you approach reading through that lens?
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