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The Latest in Hyphenation Information

In each issue of my monthly ezine, Better Writing at Work, I include an "Error Quest," a little test, or quest, to find one error in a short passage. This month’s quest involved finding a word that was missing a hyphen.

Unfortunately, the passage was missing two hyphens. I missed one hyphen when I typed the Error Quest (purely a typo–I know better!), and several sharp-eyed subscribers (Sally, Foy, and Barb) wrote to tell me about it. Inspired by the quest, Gretchen wrote with more questions about hyphens. Specifically, she wanted to know why Martha Stewart Living writes "all-purpose flour" and "vegetable-oil cooking spray."

I wrote in detail about hyphenation in 2006, and nothing much has changed since then. So I refer Gretchen and others who want to know more about hyphens to that July 11, 2006, post.

Always correct and elegant, Martha Stewart Living is using hyphens perfectly, of course. The hyphens Gretchen questioned indicate that it’s not "all flour" or "purpose flour"–it’s "all-purpose flour." And it’s not "vegetable cooking spray" or "oil cooking spray"–it’s "vegetable-oil cooking spray." The hyphens indicate the combined ideas.

If you decide to subscribe to my free newsletter, don’t look for my missing hyphen error in the current issue. I’ve corrected it–thanks to Sally, Foy, and Barb.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.