If you studied English grammar, you probably know what compound words are. These are two (or more) words joined together to create new words. Pretty much the same works for compound adverbs; what differs is function. Compound adverbs, also called compound modifiers, are compound words specifically used to modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or entire clauses. Sometimes, compound adverbs are called adverbial phrases when they are made of multiple separate words.
Compound adverbs are everywhere, and English does not exactly have specifics about compound adverbs. The biggest problem about these adverb compounds is knowing when and when not to hyphenate. Here are some easy tricks to help you remember if you should add that dash.
DON’T: Formal compound adverbs
Examples: therefore, hereinafter
Yes, such things exist. These kinds of compound adverbs are never hyphenated, simply because they are already a single word. Formal compound adverbs are ones which indicate temporal order within the text.
DO: Adverbs in the predicate
Example: Sexism is an ever-growing problem.
Usually, adverbs that are in the predicate of the sentence are hyphenated if they serve an adjectival function—that is, if the compound adverb modifies the noun in the subject of the sentence. However, if the compound adverb modifies the verb of the sentence, then hyphenation is not needed.
DON’T: Adverbs that end in –ly
Examples: widely known, exasperatedly sighing
It may be tempting to add dashes to every adverb you see, but adverbs that end in –ly need not be hyphenated with the word they modify.
DO: Adverbs that don’t end in –ly
Examples: ill-fitting suit, far-off shores
In the case of adverbs not ending with –ly, the rule of thumb is to hyphenate, especially with adverbs modifying other adjectives. Failing to do so may cause confusion in that the adverbial clause may be misunderstood as two separate adjectives describing the noun it follows.
Honestly, these tips are quite arbitrary, because as mentioned above, grammar doesn’t necessarily provide us with proper guidelines. Above all, the most important thing you must consider before adding the hyphen is the compound adverb itself. Go back to it and really understand—does the adverb really define a verb, adjective, or adverb? Once you’re sure of that, then you can be more confident with your writing.
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