Sunday, March 24, 2013

Is that One Word, Two Words, or Hyphenated?

by Jodie Renner, freelance editor and writer

My editing has expanded the last number of years to developmental, structural, content, and stylistic editing of fiction manuscripts, but I still do the final copyedit (line edit) and proofread as well. I’ve always been a good speller and enjoyed words, but if you’re the type who couldn’t care less about spelling, skip today’s blog post and check out some of my articles on writing compelling fiction instead!

BTW, Allison Brennan mentions my articles on Murder She Writes today, in an excellent blog post about how successful authors never stop learning and honing their skills:
Because of my strengths in that area, my background as an English teacher, and my training as a proofreader and copy editor, misspellings jump out at me all the time. The worst is when they’re big store signs or on a billboard, and you know the business owner has paid someone thousands of dollars to create the sign! And it would have taken mere minutes or even seconds to check the spelling in a dictionary or online! 

Speaking of online, when I’m surfing the web, I see a lot of words joined up where they should be separated or hyphenated or whatever, like "Click here to login." (verb, so should be "to log in."). Some non-visual people (who would maybe prefer to call themselves non-anal!) may not realize that a lot of words with the same sound and roughly the same meaning are spelled slightly differently depending on whether they’re verbs, nouns, or adjectives/adverbs. For those of you who care about these things, and want your writing to be polished and professional, here are some examples. 

Note that all spelling is verified through Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, but they aren’t necessarily the final, ultimate spelling. Common usage dictates the last word – for that moment, at least! But being an editor, I have to try to find an “authority,” not just use my own little quirks or preferences. And that’s maybe a good thing, to maintain some standards and keep the language from degrading down to text message lingo. AYK (as you know), B4 txting, u thot about sp more. IMO, B/C of txting, the lingo is degrading fast – If my two sons (both in their twenties) are any indication, anyway. I’ll quite often get a one-word reply from them, or even a one letter reply: “K”. I guess it’s too much work to find the “O” too, and type “OK”!

One word, two words, or hyphenated?

Anyway, here are some examples of terms that are either one word (no hyphen), two words, or a hyphenated word, depending on whether they’re used as a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb.

You start up your computer by clicking on startup, then log in to your email by clicking on a login button. Then sign off or log off by clicking on a signoff or logoff tab.

You decide to join a workout group to work out a few times a week.

The detective decided to stake out the house, but he fell asleep at the stakeout.

She was upset about having to pay start-up fees to start up a business.

I need to check up on my teenage daughter, then go for my annual checkup.

The rocket will touch down tomorrow. They're hoping for a perfect touchdown.

Let’s kiss and make up! Then I’ll put on some makeup and we can go out on the town!

We got a standby signal to stand by.

Please check in at the check-in counter.

Let’s mark down these prices for the markdown tomorrow.

Did you get the lowdown on that low-down jerk? No, I’m too run-down to run down there and check him out. But I’ll try to prepare a rundown on the situation for you by tomorrow. Let’s booby-trap the entranceway and catch him in a booby trap.

Be careful not to black out during the blackout.

Want to hang out at our usual hangout? No, I think I’ll try to pick up a date at the pickup bar down the street. Hey, don’t jaywalk, man! Let’s cross over at the crossover.

And it goes on like that…  

A good rule of thumb is that the verb form is usually two words, or sometimes hyphenated. The noun form is most often one word, and the adjective is usually hyphenated, for example: cleanup (n, adj), clean up (v); workup (n), work up (v), etc.

How about you? Do misspelled signs jump out at you and drive you crazy? Do you have any examples to add of humorous misspellings or any commonly misspelled terms? Or even suggestions for other topics like this? Thanks for your input.

Jodie Renner, a freelance editor specializing in popular fiction, has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which won a Silver Medal in the FAPA Book Awards, 2013, and Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards, 2013. Upcoming title: Immerse the Readers in Your Story World. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her blog, Resources for Writers, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Jodie also blogs alternate Mondays on The Kill Zone blog. Subscribe to Jodie’s newsletter here.


  1. I loved this post! (Well, with a Ph.D. and as a semi-former English teacher, who prefers things prim with proper prompters (though I don't mind if language is sometimes semi-formal, never having been to such a prom) (I'm getting lost in the parenthesis), what do you expect? A perfect break from Passover preparation. Lots of fun here.

    Misspelled words are the hangnails of writing.

    Glad to see the distinction between development, structural, content and copy editing stated. A lot of people thing all editing is copy-editing (if it's copy editing, is that the same as plagiarism?) with or without the hyphen. (Perhaps a rule of thumb might be the hyphen siphons.)

    Anyway, A really fun, challenging and enjoyable post, Jodie. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, David! I love your comment, "Misspelled words are the hangnails of writing." Good one! Happy Passover!

  3. Thanks, Jodie! Great refresher. I like seeing that many of the hyphens in verbs and adjectives are going away too.

  4. Excellent, Jodie, and fun to read.

  5. What a fun post. Just don't count on it fully sinking in…

  6. Thanks, LJ, Jenny, and Peg. Peg, my main aim with this post was to just make people aware that very often, words or terms with similar meaningss are spelled differently depending on the context or part of speech. Sometimes I put on my nerdy hat! Usually, I'm more concerned with the content, style and impact of a story, which are really so much more important than spelling. But spelling and punctuation make up the final polish that makes a novel, short story, article or any piece of writing look more professional, so the content and author are more credible.


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