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Thread: I never know when to hyphenate words. Should I write first-aid or first aid?

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  1. #2
    professional dilettante Lakey's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2017
    New England
    There is a pretty straightforward rule about hyphenating compound expressions like the ones you’re talking about. When the phrase is serving as a noun, you do not need a hyphen. When the phrase is serving as an adjective to modify a different noun, you do insert a hyphen. So:

    Learning first aid is easy. <— “first aid” is a noun.
    I hate first-aid training. <— “first-aid” is an adjective modifying “training.”

    The makeup artist is trained in special effects. <— “special effects” is a noun.
    The actor wore elaborate special-effects makeup. <— “special-effects” is an adjective modifying “makeup.”

    So when you are not certain whether to insert a hyphen in a phrase, analyze the grammatical function of the phrase in the sentence, and go from there.

    You can take a look at the Perdue OWL section on hyphenation for more detail and nuance.

    Last edited by Lakey; 11-22-2020 at 07:27 PM.
    There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily. --Anthony Trollope

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