One of the most common questions in any of our classes is this:
When is the phrase follow up hyphenated?
One of the reasons this punctuation question is so commonly asked is that many dictionaries are no help at all. They simply list both versions: follow-up and follow up.
I am happy to offer a way to determine whether the hyphen is required. Here's how:
If you can use the word the directly in front of the words follow up, they need a hyphen. Examples:
Please give Assan the follow-up test.
Have you sent the follow-up to Marty?
Make a follow-up call tomorrow. [You could replace a with the.]
In contrast, the sentences below would not work with the word the inserted before follow up:
Please follow up with Assan by giving him the test.
Did you follow up with Marty?
Follow up by phone tomorrow.
That's all there is to it! If you use the method above, you will always know whether follow-up or follow up is correct.
Stop reading now if just knowing the "trick" is enough for you. However, if you would like to know the reason it works, along with the rules, read on.
When follow up is a verb, it has no hyphen. Since we never use the before verbs (the belongs before nouns and adjective-noun phrases), if you cannot insert the before follow up, you know the phrase is a verb. Verb = no hyphen.
When follow up is a noun or an adjective, it does need a hyphen. Examples:
Noun: They lost interest during follow-up.
Adjective: The follow-up phase dragged on too long.
Since you can easily insert the before a noun or an adjective, inserting the (if it isn't there already), tells you that your phrase needs a hyphen.
Test Yourself: Hyphen or No Hyphen?
- Please give me a follow up call next week.
- The follow up report is almost ready.
- Call Amy to follow up about the invoices.
- Omar will follow up on Friday.
- I enjoy implementation but not follow up or maintenance.
Could you recognize which sentences needed hyphens?
Answers: Hyphens in 1, 2, and 5. No hyphens in 3 and 4.
Follow up if you have a follow-up comment or question! If you are in the Seattle area (or nearby states or provinces), take our workshop The Keys to Error-Free Writing for more helpful strategies and guidance on punctuation, grammar, and usage.
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