Are We Hyphenating Well?

The proper use of good and well in writing is a common grammatical topic. For many, the distinction can be uncertain.

An equally slippery subject is whether to hyphenate well when it helps describe a noun. For example, do we write a well-dressed man or a well dressed man?

Because well here is an adverb that modifies dressed, some might say not to punctuate the compound description; this would align with the guideline that omits punctuation from adverbial modifiers ending in -ly: a thoroughly informed spokesperson. Some might also believe that only compounded adjectives would be hyphenated: bluish-green eyes.

As a general rule, a compound adjective can include an adverb. The compound is often hyphenated before a noun but not after a noun (a well-dressed man, the man is well dressed). Well also would not be hyphenated when compounded with other adverbial modifiers, such as very (a very well dressed man).

At the same time, further investigation reveals that not all style authorities agree on this subject. The Associated Press Stylebook advises us to hyphenate well in a compound modifier both when it precedes a noun and when the compound follows the verb to be: a well-dressed man, the man is well-dressed.

AP’s rationale is that retaining the hyphen in compound modifiers after the noun helps avoid confusion. For example, if the hyphen is omitted in a statement such as he is a little known man, the reader might interpret it as meaning he is a known man who is little. Adding the hyphen clarifies: little-known man tells us he is one few people know. Writing the man is well-dressed remains consistent with AP’s chosen style.

The Chicago Manual of Style, on the other hand, doesn’t concur with this stance. Its editors find hyphenation unnecessary when a compound modifier with well follows a noun, including compounds that might be hyphenated in dictionaries. It would therefore encourage us to write the man is well dressed.

Other style hawks assert that certain compounds with well should retain their hyphens in all positions because they are single concepts or standard expressions. These individuals would cite examples such as well-appointed, well-founded, well-connected, and well-intentioned; to them, each compound’s meaning differs from its unmodified adjective (appointed, founded, connected, intentioned), making well vital to clarity.

By this reasoning, these compound concepts or expressions would retain their hyphen even when well is modified by another adverb such as very: a very well-appointed man.

With all this considered, we still might ask ourselves: When do we truly need to hyphenate? The experts don’t agree and even seemingly reliable guidelines can have exceptions. The answer is that rules of hyphenation for well are not engraved in stone.

As with anything else in our writing, clarity is king. If a hyphen makes our meanings clearer, we keep it; otherwise, we leave it out as nonessential. Consistency matters as well. As long as we choose a style and stick to it, our usage will help sustain our writing rather than distract from it.

Sending Out the APB on Made-Up Words

Estimates of English’s total word count vary, but linguists agree the number ranks near the top of the world’s vocabularies. Some sources cite English as having as many as 300,000 distinctly usable words.

With so many residents in a vernacular, impostors posing as real words are bound to slip in. They start as mistakes but last long enough to wiggle into pockets of speech. Before long, they spread out, gaining confidence and popularity until they set their sights on the real prize: placement in a dictionary.

While casual conversation provides the most refuge for these con artists, their common usage still often lets them cross into composition’s more-managed domain.

Here are a few of those made-up words to remain on the watch for:

Imposter: administrate (v) / Real Word: administer

Imposter: participator (n) / Real Word: participant

Imposter: commentate (v) / Real Word: comment

Imposter: preventative (adj) / Real Word: preventive

Imposter: orientate (v) / Real Word: orient

Imposter: supposably (adj, adv) / Real Word: supposedly

Imposter: conversate (v) / Real Word: converse

Imposter: undoutably (adj, adv) / Real Word: undoubtedly

Imposter: irregardless (adj, adv) / Real Word: regardless

Imposter: vice-a-versa (adv) / Real Word: vice versa

Imposter: exploitive (adj) / Real Word: exploitative

Imposter: whole nother (adj) / Real Words: another, whole other

Imposter: firstly (secondly, thirdly, etc.) (adv) / Real Word: first (second, third, etc.)

Imposter: incentivize (v) / Real Words: encourage, motivate, reward

A few of these invaders, such as irregardless and preventative, have already cleared the fence, crossed their covert tunnels and arrived safely in dictionaries. That alone does not validate them, nor does it mean we should permit them into our writing.

You also probably noted several made-up words in the list include the suffix -ate. This is a common ploy some words will use to create more versions of themselves.

The suffix -ize operates much the same way. In addition to incentivize, keep an eye on words such as actualize, collectivize, intellectualize and normalize. Some words, such as finalize, prioritize, memorize and ostracize, need their three-letter caboose to deliver their meaning, but most -ize words are pitching tents where houses are built.

Made-up words present another call for us to lead the way in upholding concise, grammatical writing. By remaining vigilant, we can help halt the advance of the pretenders.

Proper Prepositional Pairings

Like any other language, English functions best when its parts are correctly connected.

During grammatical evolution, parts of speech have bonded with certain prepositions for concise expression. An exacting writer observes these couplings and upholds their intended use and integrity.

The noun “affinity” (a natural connection or attraction to a person or thing) is but one example of prepositional mating that calls for closer attention. In most applications today, we often hear and use “an affinity for” someone or something.

In the past, keeping in step with grammarians such as Theodore M. Bernstein (The Careful Writer), style arbiters have advised against attaching “for” to “affinity." At the same time, we recognize our language is fluid: Over time, the writing and speaking majority determine what will or won’t stay—i.e., what is a fad and what isn’t.

“Affinity” and “for” have become attached at the hip—so much so we recognize their lasting union. At the same time, the exacting writer will acknowledge that “affinity” has other prepositional partners to which it’s tied for accuracy. In addition to “for,” “affinity” combines with “between,” “with,” and “to.”

If you are expressing a natural attraction toward someone or something, you will use the now accepted “for.” This pairing most often follows the verbs “have” and “feel”: “I feel an affinity for Jack—we’ve been friends for 20 years,” “She has an affinity for politics and current events.”

If you are describing the whole of a good relationship, you would use “between”: “Jack and John have an affinity between them.” If you are writing of the same relationship from one party’s viewpoint, you would use “with”: “Jack enjoys an affinity with Sam.”

So far the examples convey an easily identified interest or appeal. If you find someone to be different from you but you’re still drawn to that person, you feel an affinity to him or her: “Bob feels an affinity to Richard even though their thoughts compete.” The same applies to things: “Her style is strictly postmodern, but she admits an affinity to expressionist art.”

The following are a few more examples of correct word-preposition pairs:


ability at (doing), with (something)
Joseph shows great ability at solving complex equations.
Joseph shows great ability with mathematics.

emigrate from; immigrate to, into
Johann emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1984.
Johann immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1984.

adverse, averse to
Elizabeth is averse to running on pavement because it’s adverse to her knees.

noun: contrast to (opposite); noun, verb: contrast with (different)
Catherine’s conservative views present a stark contrast to Irene’s liberal beliefs.

In contrast with Joseph’s strict adherence to written procedure, Sarah believes in allowing some interpretation.

Philip’s sidearm throw when he’s fielding the ball contrasts with his straight overhand delivery when he’s pitching.


Being mindful of prepositional pairings shows your devotion to clean and clear writing. Whenever you are unsure of a prepositional pairing, be sure to look it up in a style or grammar book.

If you have a wider interest in good grammar and want to infuse more of it into your writing, a great website to visit, review and bookmark is