Scientific English as a Foreign Language
Answers to Lesson of January 5, 1999

Hyphens are commonly used to break up a word at the end of a line. The remainder of the word appears on the following line. This function is usually done correctly by modern word processors. A second, more difficult application of hyphenation comes when forming compound words. Let's examine these examples:

The first example, Scientific American English, is hard to interpret because we don't know how to group the words and extract the meaning. This is also true for the last. The second, Scientific-American English, concerns the kind of English found in the monthly magazine Scientific American. The third, Scientific American-English, concerns the English spoken to the West of the Atlantic in a scientific context. The small hyphen has a powerful influence on meaning.

In order to place the hyphens correctly, ask yourself which words belong together. In the second example, the words Scientific and American act together to modify the noun English. In the third example, American and English together define a specific regional style of English.

Typically, hyphens are helpful when two nouns together, or an adjective and a noun together, modify a third noun. How would you hyphenate the following...or would you?

Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves,
for they shall never cease to be amused.

-author unknown

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Created January 5, 1999, by Nancy Burnham and Fred Hutson.