Business Writing

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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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November 13, 2012


David Richardson

I use these two examples to get my students to understand the difference:

He's a hard working man.
He's a hard-working man.

I work in Sweden - mainly with Swedes - and this phenomenon has recently become a problem for Swedish speakers, as English has had more and more influence on Swedish. It's common to make compound nouns in Swedish, but if you start breaking them up (because it looks more English!) you get some strange results. Here's one:

Stekt kyckling lever

Stekt = fried/kyckling = chicken/lever = both 'lives' and 'liver'

So as it stands you've got a fried chicken that's come back to life … but it should be:

Stekt kycklinglever

If you write it right (!), you're back in the normal world of fried chicken livers!

David Richardson

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, David. Your "hard working man" example is terrific--very clear and simple.

"Fried chicken lives"--I like it!

Thanks for taking the time to share these lively examples.


Lynn Hare

The word that always throws me is "follow-up." Examples:
"I need to follow up on that lead. I'll make follow-up phone calls and emails after the holiday." Did I punctuate those right?

I've been gluten-free for 11 years - before it was popular. I'm a bit better at grammar & punctuation than basting and baking, too. I like to write more than I like to bite!

George Raymond

In my field, opinions are mixed on how to write high-speed rail. Some proponents write "high speed rail", I think for rhythm and drama. But I hyphenate.

Lisa Marie

I am in the LED lighting industry, and I always find myself questioning whether or not to hyphenate phrases like "LED-based," "energy-efficient," and "lead-time."

Lynn, this directive about phrases ending in "free" is very helpful. I just searched your blog for the word "hyphen" and found several other helpful blog posts. Thanks for these resources!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Lynn. Thanks for commenting. "Follow up" tricks many people. Your examples are both correct.

I have written about that tricky phrase here:

Anytime you need help with "follow up," just type it in the search box at top right.


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hello, George. I believe it is important to use the hyphen in "high-speed rail." After all, you are not describing a high rail or a speed rail. "High-speed" is clearly a combined idea.

What is the rationale for those in your industry who want to omit the hyphen?


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Lisa Marie. I am glad you found my other blog posts on hyphens helpful.

I would hyphenate "LED-based" and "energy-efficient" before the nouns they modify but leave them open after the nouns.

I can't see hyphenating "lead time" unless it is used as an adjective before a noun, like this:

- We have a lead-time advantage.

Do my views agree with yours? I generally use "The Chicago Manual of Style" when I have hyphen questions.


Rebecca Kroegel

Very interesting question, I believe the rules of proper English with such things as the hyphen will always gets lost! Its rather sad

Lisa Marie

Lynn, I do agree with your views on hyphenating those three phrases. I handle each of them in the ways you mentioned as well.

Our company actually does not have any preferred style manual, and I think it would be very helpful if we chose one so that we do not have constant confusion on issues like this!

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Rebecca. Language rules do evolve as people follow or ignore them. Because I see it as natural evolution, I don't find it sad, but engaging. It keeps me busy!


Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Lisa Marie. Many companies use "The Associated Press Stylebook," which comes out yearly in an inexpensive spiral-bound manual. I also like "Microsoft Manual of Style" and "The Gregg Reference Manual." I use them all.


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