Incarcerated but Not Hyphenated

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:

Understanding Dashes and Hyphens

Re-Elect or Reelect? Pre-Existing or Preexisting?

A Sales Flyer in Need of Hyphens

Your Gluten-Free (Gluten Free?) Recipe

Capitalizing Hyphenated Words in Titles

A Well-Known Problem: Hyphens With "Well" Words

To master hyphens and other punctuation, take my online self-study course Punctuation for Professionals

Syntax Training 


  1. I’ve been reading your posts for at least 5 years now and this is the first thing I read that I truly did not know! Kudos to you for writing so well that I keep reading for so long…because I find it interesting, entertaining, and well-written (good use of hyphen??). I am admittedly a grammar nerd so there is that. Thank you!

  2. Hi Jennifer Ann Elizabeth,

    Thank you for letting me know about your long interest in the blog. I am delighted that I have taught you something!

    Yes, “well-written” is acceptable according to “AP.”

    Thanks for the smile.



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