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A Sales Flyer in Need of Hyphens

On a morning walk, I picked up a sales flyer for a luxury building–luxurious except for the missing hyphens. How many hyphens would you insert in the passage below? Feel free to list your hyphenated words.

Stunning stand alone home. Striking design and functionality come together in all living spaces. Walls of windows with abundant light. Spacious great room with gourmet kitchen. Beautiful real hardwoods, floating stairs, custom steel railings, sleek modern fireplace. Top floor master suite with spa like 5 piece bathroom. Huge roof deck with wet bar and nice views. Includes off street parking space and exterior storage room.

Unsure? Here’s a tip for you:

We use a hyphen to connect two or more parts of a compound adjective that comes before the word it modifies. For example, “two story building” must be changed to “two-story building” because “two” and “story” combine to form one adjective. (It’s not two buildings or a story building–it’s a two-story building.) In contrast, “two exclusive buildings” takes no hyphen because the adjectives “two” and “exclusive” work separately–not in combination–to describe the buildings.

I’ll post a solution after you get a chance to post yours.

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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.

11 comments on “A Sales Flyer in Need of Hyphens”

  • Five hyphens are needed:

    Actually, we could use some commas, too.

  • Hi Lynn, thank you for picking the topic of hyphens. I think it is very practical and useful. I am not a native English speaker and I would easily to overlook the issue in daily life. For the question, I would inser two hyphens in the passage above: Top-floor master suite and 5-piece bathroom. Could you advise if it is right or I missed any other hyphen? Thank you.

  • My list is the same as Fran Moore’s. I would normally spell out “five” for the 5-piece bathroom but have noticed that most ads and flyers favor numerals over text. Would you agree that marketing rarely conforms when it comes to rules of grammar? Many thanks for this exercise!

  • I agree with Fran’s list and her comment about missing commas. I also agree with Jane’s comment about spelling out five rather than 5. However, it does seem we are losing the battle in the numbers game.

  • Stand-alone
    5-piece (would have spelled five out)

    My question is does great room; gourmet kitchen; floating stairs; roof deck; storage room or wet bar qualify for the hyphen treatment?

  • Thanks for playing, everyone. I agree with Fran and her fans. These expressions must be hyphenated:

    stand-alone–because it’s not a stand home or an alone home.
    top-floor–because it’s not a top master suite or a floor master suite.
    spa-like–because it’s not a spa bathroom or a like bathroom.
    5-piece–because it’s not 5 bathrooms or a piece bathroom.
    off-street–because it’s not off parking or street parking.

    I would not hyphenate “custom steel” although it does depend on the writer’s meaning. I believe the meaning is steel railings that are custom–not railings that are custom steel.

    None of the other expressions needs hyphens–at least not the way they are used in the passage. Linda, you asked about “great room” and others. If we said “this condo has a “great-room layout,” the hyphen would be correct because the parts of the adjective (“great” and “room”) must be connected.

    I can see only one place where we might insert a comma: between “sleek” and “modern.” However, I don’t feel it’s required. We can interpret it as a modern fireplace that happens to be sleek–not as a fireplace that is modern and sleek.

    I hope I have addressed all your comments and questions.


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