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Hyphens with “ly” words – stay or go?


After so many years of not being clear on hyphenating after “ly” words, I have clarity, and I hope you will too after reading this. When I found this understandable explanation, I never hesitated again. Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea, as in these examples:

Yes, add hyphen because the first word can also describe the noun

  • Friendly-looking advisor – “friendly” modifies “looking” and is also (or can be used as) an adjective describing “advisor”

  • Motherly-looking woman – “motherly” modifies “looking” and is also (or can be used as) an adjective describing “woman”

No, don’t add hyphen because the “ly” word modifies the adjective after it

  • Wholly owned subsidiary – Referring to the explanation from “yes” above, “wholly” is not modifying “owned” and “wholly owned” is not a single idea before the noun “company.” “Wholly” cannot be separately used to also describe “subsidiary.” “Wholly subsidiary” doesn’t make sense.

  • Brightly lit room – “brightly lit” is not a compound adjective describing “room.” “Brightly” cannot be used separately to also describe “room.” “Brightly room” is incorrect.

No need for hyphens on these either!

Publicly owned company

Privately held business

Newly formed division

Actively managed portfolio

Remarkably unstable market

Badly performing stock market

Similarly rated corporate bonds

Highly correlated environment

Environmentally focused business

Say it with Steele, x C

#sayitwithsteele #hyphens #adverbs #punctuation