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Hyphenation Rules for User Guides: Compound Adjectives

Posted by ClickHelp TeamClickHelp Teamin Education on 11/7/2017 — 2 minute read


Hyphenation is a linguistic phenomenon which is quite often left out of grammar books. Nevertheless, there are rules that one must follow to use hyphens right.

Technical writers, for example, need to make their user documentation look professional. Otherwise, their readers might think that the company itself is untrustworthy.

Let’s try to figure out how to use a hyphen with compound adjectives.

Hyphen or Dash?

A hyphen is a tiny short dash. Not to be confused with the actual dash – a hyphen can only be put between words, never sentences. See this example:

There should be a 2-second delay between the videos. (a hyphen)

Not sure how to start your documentation authoring process – create a documentation plan first. (a dash)

With this figured out, let’s move further to see how to use hyphens with compound adjectives.

Hyphen with Compound Adjectives

Adjectives in a sentence stand close to nouns and pronouns they modify. You can rarely find a sentence with just an adjective. An adjective can quite often appear before a noun, like this:

This red button turns the PC off.

Here, red is an adjective.

As far as hyphens are concerned, we are interested in this very positioning, when an adjective is placed before a noun.


The rule states – if an adjective is compound (it is made up from several words) and is located before a noun, then it gets a hyphen between the words it is made of. Like this:

Try using a command-line client to fulfil this task.

Compound adjectives are usually formed following these patterns: a noun + an adjective, a noun + a participle, or an adjective + a participle. Also, quite often, they feature numerals:

They had to cross a 2-mile distance.


Hyphenated compound adjectives can also contain fractions:

A quarter-million dollars is our biggest deal closed this summer.

We only have a half-hour break in our office.

So, these are the basic rules describing the usage of compound adjectives with hyphens. There is a couple more topics in English grammar that deserve way more attention than they are getting. If you want more useful grammar reading, check out an article on Possessive Case With Proper Nouns.


Quite often, too much agile leads to a quality loss. And, it’s a pity. Everyone has figured out by now that perfectionism is just as bad though. So, should one starting a user manual get into all this grammar that deep? We believe, one should.

Being a technical writer means developing and learning non-stop. And, every tech-comm professional should be aware of the majority of grammar rules and use cases. Only then will they be able to produce user documentation of great quality.

Good Luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Online Documentation & Technical Writing Tools

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