Thursday November 24, 2011
YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED by FADZILAH AMIN
IS there a rule regarding the use of hyphens? Why are some words hyphenated and others separated or joined as one word even though they convey the same meaning?
Here are just a few examples I have come across: well-being, tailor-made, award-winning, six-course, multi-purpose, in-house, breath-taking, awe-inspiring, mouth-watering, state-of-the-art, non-organic, well-trained, breathtaking and well trained.
Is there a rule of thumb on when to join two words into one, keep them separate or hyphenate them? – Juicy
There are no definitive rules about when to use hyphens between words, because the practice keeps changing and even now dictionaries differ on this matter. When I was at school in the 1950s, we had to use a hyphen in “co-operate” and “co-ordinate”. Now the hyphen is only an alternative in British English, and the more common forms are “cooperate” and “coordinate”. The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (1989) still uses the hyphenated form as the only form, so the change in British English spelling for those words must have come after 1989.
Some of the prefixes that we can depend upon to have a hyphen after them are “ex-” meaning “former”, as in “ex-wife”; “pro-” meaning “in favour of” as in “pro-life” (in favour of maintaining the lives of foetuses in the womb, i.e. “anti-abortion”) and “non-” , “expressing negation or absence, or not the kind or class described” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary 2009), as in “non-event”, “non-technical”and “non-member”. But even here, we have a notable exception, i.e. “nonconformist”, i.e. “a person who does not conform to prevailing ideas or established practice” (COD).
Sometimes we are told that compound adjectives like “state of the art”, “up to date”, “well known”and “well trained” are hyphenated when placed before the noun (i.e. attributively), but if they are placed after the verb (i.e. predicatively), the words are separated. But I find that this is not considered so in all dictionaries, whether British or American. Take the adjective “state of the art” for example. Here are some examples of usage from some dictionaries:
“The system was state of the art.” and “a state-of-the-art system” (online Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)
“Our highly sophisticated, technological defence establishment is advancing the state-of-the-art weaponry into new and therefore secret areas.” (OED)
The above examples seem to conform to the “rule”. But look at the following which use hyphens in both positions:
“a state of-the-art computer”
“The control panel uses all the newest technology and is considered state-of-the-art.” (online Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, British English)
“All the equipment here is state-of-the-art”
“a state-of-the-art system”
(online Oxford Advanced American Dictionary)
But just as I was about to generalise and say that all American dictionaries use hyphens in compound adjectives, even in predicative positions, I came across the following examples in the online Oxford Advanced American Dictionary, after the definitions of “up to date”:
“This technology is very up to date. “
“We are keeping up to date with the latest developments.”
“She brought him up to date with what had happened.”
These are identical with the examples given in the British English OALD.
My advice to you therefore is when in doubt, check with a good dictionary that you judge to be suitable to your level of English. But make sure you stick to the same dictionary!
The difference is unclear
PLEASE help me clear some doubts about the usage of these words.
1. When is the article “the” used and when is it not used?
2. What is the difference between “a little”, “some” and “a few”?
3. What is the difference between “had brought” and “brought”? Does the presence of “had” make a difference? – Thomas M
1. This is a very broad question and would take a few pages of print to answer satisfactorily. I suggest you look up the word in the online Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary where there are 10 uses of “the” explained, with examples. If you want more details, there are a few pages in Michael Swan, Practical English Usage (New International Student’s Edition) explaining how and where “the” is used.
2. The above dictionary states that “a little” is “used with uncountable nouns to mean ‘a small amount’ ...” Thus we can say “a little water/butter/time.”
“A few” is only used with plural countable nouns to mean “a small number”, e.g. a few chairs/tables/books.”
One of the meanings of “some” is “a small amount or number”. But “some” has other meanings, e.g. “ ‘an amount of’ or ‘a number of’ when the amount or number is not given” (OALD).
When “some” means “a small amount or number”, it can be used instead of “a little” or “a few”, e.g. “some water/butter/time” or “some chairs/tables/books.”
For more details, you can consult the above dictionary or other advanced learner’s dictionaries online or otherwise.
3. “Brought” is the simple past tense of the verb “bring”, while “had brought” is the past perfect tense of “bring”. Of course the presence of “had” makes a difference! We use a simple past tense when talking about something in the past. But when there are two events in the past and you need to differentiate between the two, you use the past perfect tense for the earlier past event and the simple past tense for the later past event.
For example, we can say: “My friend brought me a present when he came to my birthday party yesterday.” Here there is only one time in the past – yesterday – so only the simple past tense is used.
However, both tenses are used in the sentence: “My colleague treated some of us to lunch yesterday, because a phone call the previous night had brought him news of his daughter’s success in her final exams.” The event that occurred earlier (i.e. his getting the good news about his daughter’s exam result), is expressed in the past perfect tense - “had brought”, while the event that came later (i.e. his treating some of his colleagues to lunch) is expressed in the simple past tense – “treated”.
WHY do we say “an” MBA and not “a” MBA since “M” is a consonant? – Joyce Tan
This is because we pronounce the letter “M” as “em” and “em” begins with the vowel “e”. Try saying “an MBA” and “a MBA”. Surely “an MBA” is easier to pronounce?
‘Has’ or ‘had’?
WHICH of these is correct?
He was old enough and times has/had changed. – Charles
The correct sentence is “He was old enough and times had changed.”
This is because the past perfect tense “had changed” should be used to indicate the change that had occurred between an earlier time in the past to a later time in the past when “he was old enough”.
For example if he was considered “old enough” at 21 in 1980 to get a job and leave home to stay with his friends in the same town as his parents, it can be said that” times had changed” (in the sense of people’s acceptance of a young working man not staying with his parents) from say 1950 to 1980. In 1950 Malaya it would have been unheard of to do that.