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May 11 2010   2:47PM GMT

Hyphenating compound modifiers

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
In a _______ circuit, external noise can be picked up from appliances in the vicinity, from electrical transformers, from the atmosphere and even from outer space.
a. hard wired
b. hard-wired

Answer: b

The general rule for compound modifiers is that when they appear before the word they modify, they should be hyphenated.

A hyphen can make a big difference to the meaning of your sentence. For example, inviting 20-odd people to a party can make for a much different evening than inviting 20 odd people.

See more in the thousands of hyphens disappearing from the OED.

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