SC Lawyer, Sept. 2003, #7. The Scrivener September 2003 Hyphens and dashes, part 1.

AuthorBy Scott Mo\xEFse

South Carolina Lawyer


SC Lawyer, Sept. 2003, #7.

The Scrivener September 2003 Hyphens and dashes, part 1

South Carolina LawyerSeptember 2003The Scrivener September 2003 Hyphens and dashes, part 1By Scott MoïseHyphens and dashes serve to compound or separate words or word elements. These punctuation marks are important in legal writing because a case can turn on the interpretation of such marks. For example, in Foster v. Foster, 472 S.E.2d 678, 687 nn.6-7 (W. Va. 1996), the court reversed the lower court ruling that the phrase "farm - house + contents" rendered a holographic will void for ambiguity; the court noted that a dash indicates a break in thought, while a hyphen is used to connect the parts of a compound word. Unfortunately, no universal rule exists with respect to the use of hyphens, and courts' interpretation of them may vary by jurisdiction. E.g., Reynolds v. Wabash Life Ins. Co., 161 S.E.2d 168, 169 (S.C. 1968) (agreeing with the lower court that the phrase "cardio-vascular disease" in an insurance policy could be correctly interpreted as though it were "cardio and vascular disease," a conclusion reached through reliance on the testimony of a University of South Carolina English professor, who testified that the hyphen is similar in effect to supplying the conjunction "and" and that the hyphen eliminates any suggestion of the conjunction "or"); Simplot v. Knight, 988 P.2d 955, 960 n.3 (Wash. 1999) (finding that a hyphen used to separate multiple payees on a check is patently ambiguous, and referencing a succinct statement on the matter from one dictionary: "No attempt will be made here to describe modern English usage in the matter of hyphens; its infinite variety defies description. No two dictionaries and no two sets of style rules would be found to give consistently the same advice.")

  1. Hyphens

Hyphen usage can be grouped into two general categories: with compounds or with numbers. Dash usage can likewise be grouped into two categories: (1) as a substitute for another punctuation mark to show a break or stronger emphasis; and (2) to indicate hesitation or repetition. The usage rules for those punctuation marks are complex and may vary according to differing authorities. This column follows the rules included in William Sabin's The Gregg Reference Manuel.

  1. Hyphens with Compound Adjectives

    Compound adjectives function as a unit and express a single thought; they modify a noun and take the place of an adjective phrase or clause. In general, compound adjectives coming before the noun are hyphenated. In the case of an adjective phrase or clause, which is usually located after the noun, do not use a hyphen. Also, the same expression located elsewhere in the sentence may no longer function as an adjective at all. For example:

    * Kate excelled at Michigan Law School, where she performed at a high level.

    * A high-performance student, Kate excelled at Michigan Law School.

    The decision whether to hyphenate a compound adjective depends on its part of speech and, sometimes, its location in the sentence. Compound adjectives take the following forms, and each has different rules for hyphenating: (1) adjective + noun, (2) noun + adjective, (3) noun + participle, (4) adjective + participle, (5) adverb + participle, (6) adverb + adjective, (7) adjective + noun +"ed," (8) participle + adverb, (9) adjective + adjective, (10) verb + verb, (11) verb + adverb, and (12) verb + noun. Compound adjective phrases may be hyphenated, as well.

    (1) Adjective + noun

    Hyphenate an adjective-noun combination when it comes before a noun or acts as a compound adjective...

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