Compound adjectives are made up of a combination of noun plus adjective, noun plus participle, or adjective plus participle. More often than not, these are hyphenated.

When should you hyphenate?

Let’s look at a few.

Nouns + Adjectives

If you know a boy who is prone to accidents, he’s an:

Accident-prone boy

You admire a girl’s dress that is the blue of a cornflower:

Cornflower-blue dress

You’ve given your child too many lollies; she’s a:

Sugar-happy toddler

Nouns + Participle

If you use a computer to create your logo, you have a:

Computer-generated logo

If you have a carpenter build cabinets to your specifications, you have:

Custom-built cabinets

You have a beautiful piece of pottery that was fired in a kiln:

Kiln-fired pottery

Adjective + Participle

If you quickly thought of an answer to a dilemma, you are a:

Quick-thinking individual

If you meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger on the train, he’s a:

Good-looking man

If you were flummoxed by the good-looking man, you were:

Open-mouthed staring

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Weird Verbs that Become Nouns

Phrasal verbs are made up of a main verb and a preposition or an adverb:

Build up: You should build up the front of this flower bed.

Break in: She wants to break in her new shoes before the dance.

Drop off: He will drop off the check tomorrow afternoon.

When these phrasal verbs are used as a noun, however, you hyphenate them.

Build-up: The soap scum build-up is hard to remove from the shower.

Break-in: The neighbors next door suffered a break-in last night.

Drop-off: The drop-off at the edge of the road was terrifying.

Final Thoughts

Only when these compound adjectives precede a noun do we hyphenate them. When they fall after the noun they modify, there’s no hyphenation.

  • The party put forth a well-intentioned plan for rehabilitating the neighborhood.

  • The party’s plans for rehabilitation were well intentioned.

  • That boy has an interesting conch-shaped ear.

  • That boy’s ear is interestingly conch shaped.

  • The school has a government-mandated lunch program.

  • The school’s lunch program is government mandated.

Clear? No?

Check out our full dashes vs hyphens article here.

Common Questions about Hyphenation

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