Be-Verb Bumper Stickers Make a Comeback

A car pulled up next to my Prius at a stoplight in downtown Portland. The driver opened her window and asked, “What does your bumper sticker mean?” Through my passenger window, I told her that it means to look for verbs like “is” and “were” and “are,” and then consider how you might reword to make the writing tighter and more impactful. “You made my day,” she said. Continue reading

To Hyphenate or Not To Hyphenate After a Noun: That Is the Wrong Question

Updated May 24

This job is long-term.

This job is long term.

Do you need the hyphen here? Most authorities say no. Don’t hyphenate a compound modifier when it follows a noun. Before a noun, yes (This is a long-term job), but after, no (This job is long term).

Most authorities also point out exceptions. They say that some compounds (razor-sharp, risk-averse, time-sensitive, blue-green) need a hyphen even when they follow a noun. Uh-oh. Not so fast. I just checked the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. When I wasn’t looking, the authorities behind this heavyweight guide changed their minds about the hyphenation of color compounds, like blue-green: “Compound adjectives formed with color words … now … remain open when they follow the noun.”

So much for blue-green—I mean blue green—needing a hyphen after a noun.

So much for “the” right answer.

Happily, I’m seeking not a right answer but a right question. Most authorities don’t tell you that if you ask “Do I need a hyphen here?” after a noun, you’re almost always asking the wrong question … Continue reading