Business Writing

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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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August 04, 2010


Val S.

This is something I've wondered about, and it's good to know what the various reference manuals say. Thanks for saving me the work of looking them all up! Our style generally goes to using capitals in hyphenated words because it looks better in headings. However, I also think CMOS is so sensible when they advise breaking rules if something doesn't look right (I love their monthly FAQs - grammar and humor together!).


I also love CMOS's advice to break a rule that doesn't work. In my opinion, it's better for text to flow well and to look and sound correct to the majority of people than to be technically correct, but appear strange or stilted.

Patricia robb

How timely is this? I was just reviewing a letter and noticed that in one place they had put Co-Chair and in another Co-chair and I wasn't sure which one was right, but I did know that whatever it was, it should be consistent throughout the letter.

After reading this post, I like the Gregg answer and will change it to Co-Chair.

Thanks as usual,


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Val, Stephanie, and Patricia.
Thanks for commenting on the niceties of business writing!

Patricia, I am glad you brought up "Co-Chair." Based on the rules I reviewed, I believe all three manuals would capitalize both parts in a title.


Bob C

Holy Hyphen, Batman!

Er, I mean Mrs. Gaertner-Johnston. You were my high school English teacher. I did a Google search on capitalizing hyphenated words and your website came up.

I'm a government Technical Writer (don't worry, not the IRS) and you answered my question.

I thank you and your country thanks you.

Bob C.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Bob. You brought me a big laugh--thank you!

Don't tell anyone our secrets from back in the Stone Age.

I am glad to know you are still a writer.

Warm wishes,

Mrs. Gaertner-Johnston
Your High School English Teacher


I'll get on a small soap box: in ancient times, you decided whether to capitalize on factors other than the number of letters in a word (e.g. part of speech, proper noun). Counting letters seems so distasteful: "by" and "near" are categorized differently by Gregg. Um... yucc.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Tom. I agree that the letter-counting approach feels arbitrary. Yet I prefer it to having long prepositions such as "throughout" and "between" lower case.

Thanks for soapboxing for us.



Hello, any idea if subordinating conjunctions in a hyphenated compound word should be capitalized in a title? Should it be "Better-than-Original Quality" or "Better-Than-Original Quality"? Thanks!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Craig. I would capitalize it because I follow the "Gregg" style described above. The other reference manuals named above do not recommend capitalizing conjunctions.

It's up to you.



Hello, can you tell me what AP Style's view is on hyphenating the second word in a hyphenated word, particularly in a heading?

Thank you,

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Julie. I have searched my 2012 AP Stylebook and cannot find the answer to your question.


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