I received an invitation to a professional meeting focused on hiring “formerly-incarcerated talent (FIT).” FIT–that’s a catchy acronym.
But what caught my attention more was the unnecessary use of the hyphen. Did you notice it? These are formerly incarcerated (not hyphenated) individuals.
Here’s the rule: Do not use a hyphen with a modifier that includes an -ly adverb and a participle or an adjective. If that’s too much grammar talk for you, the important part of the rule is the –ly adverb.
These are correct examples:
highly paid executive (-ly adverb and participle)
fully vested employee (-ly adverb and participle)
perfectly prepared meal (-ly adverb and participle)
tightly woven knit (-ly adverb and participle)
heavily guarded compound (-ly adverb and participle)
overly enthusiastic response (-ly adverb and adjective)
barely affordable rent (-ly adverb and adjective)
uniquely talented candidate (-ly adverb and adjective)
mildly amusing joke (-ly adverb and adjective)
formerly incarcerated talent (-ly adverb and participle)
When you use such a structure, you can confidently leave out the hyphen.
But be sure your -ly word is an adverb. These no-adverb phrases are correct with a hyphen:
family-friendly entertainment (family = noun)
jelly-like consistency (jelly = noun)
mealy-mouthed apology (mealy = adjective)
early-access pass (early = adjective)
assembly-line process (assembly = adjective)
For more tips on when to use and when to omit hyphens, check out these past posts:
To master hyphens and other punctuation, take my online self-study course Punctuation for Professionals.