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A major grammar conundrum sorted. You’re welcome.

When you write, do you sometimes separate or combine two words with trepidation? Do you hesitate when adding or removing a hyphen?

If you’re like most people, you have a million emails and reports on the go at once. So you have little time to fuss over this kind of stuff, right? I get it. I really do.

That’s why I’m writing this post – to resolve this annoying two-word conundrum for you once and for all. And to help you write like a professional.

But first, I’d like to share a little story with you.

I recently celebrated my 40th birthday. And as expected, my family and friends saw it as a superb opportunity to embarrass me.

But I certainly wasn’t prepared for this.

My long-time best friend unearthed a ‘top secret’ letter I had written to her some 28 years earlier. (Yes, she happened to stumble across it just in time for my party. Fancy that, hey?) And to my delight, she decided to scan it and project it on the big screen for all my guests to enjoy.

And there it was.

‘ALOT’.

Yup! Twelve-year old Vikki Maver – now copywriter and grammar pedant – wrote ALOT.

AS. ONE. WORD.

And I wrote it five or six times. That’s A LOT!

The shame. The shock. The horror.

Needless to say, I now shudder at the sight of this grammar calamity. But others I more easily forgive. Including these ones.

Thank you, thankyou or thank-you?

Never hyphenate this word. It’s either ‘Thank you’ or ‘Thankyou’. And most of the time, ‘thank you’ is the correct choice.

Here’s the difference.

Thank you is the verb ‘to thank’. For example, ”Thank you, Belinda, for showing that letter to all my guests.’

Thankyou on the other hand, is a noun. For example, ‘Did you receive my thankyou note?’

Website, web site or web-site?

It’s not the 1990s anymore, you guys. Website is one word. Without a hyphen. Always.

Website. Website. Website.

Got it? Good.

And you don’t capitalise the W unless it’s the first word in a sentence. It’s old-school.

The same rule applies to these digital words:

  • online not on-line
  • login not log-in
  • cyberspace not cyber-space
  • email not e-mail

You can change with the times too. I just know you can.

Coordinate or co-ordinate?

I know it looks a little strange at first, but it’s best to avoid a hyphen with prefixes such as ‘co’. The correct choice is coordinate.

Other words that do not require a hyphen include:

  • coexist not co-exist
  • cooperate not co-operate
  • proactive not pro-active
  • ultraviolet not ultra-violet
  • infrared not infra-red
  • hyperactive not hyperactive
  • autopilot not autopilot

There are exceptions though.

  • Use hyphens with prefixes ‘self’ and ‘ex’. Examples: ex-husband and self-aware
  • Use hyphens if your prefix sits before a proper noun. Examples: un-Australian and pro-Liberal.
  • If the prefix ends in the same vowel that the other word starts with, use a hyphen. Examples: re-enter and ultra-argumentative. However, when the vowel is an o, omit the hyphen.

User-friendly or user friendly?

Whenever the first word of a phrase can also be used as a stand-alone word, you should hyphenate for the sake of clarity.

Hyphens help your reader instantly grasp the meaning of the entire sentence. It clues them in early – leaving no room for confusion.

For example, if you describe your software as user friendly, for a nanosecond, I might think your software is just user… Huh? That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

Here are more examples to illustrate my point:

  • Sam is wide-eyed not Sam is wide eyed
    Without the hyphen, I might think Sam is wide…
  • Clare is ill-humoured not Clare is ill humoured
    Without the hyphen, I might think Clare is ill…
  • The puppy is high-spirited not The puppy is high spirited
    Without the hyphen, I might think the puppy is high…
  • My teacher is dead-serious not My teacher is dead serious
    Without the hyphen, I might think my teacher is dead…

This same rule applies to phrases with more than two words:

  • Kate’s reaction was over-the-top.
  • The government is well-thought-of.
  • The website is up-to-date.

Thank you for your time. I hope this online article will improve your website writing and reduce confusion around two-word and three-word phrases.