Which of these are acceptable? Is one preferable over the other?

  1. "Chemically-deposited tourmaline is never periwinkle."
  2. "Chemically deposited tourmaline is never periwinkle."

Also, is the title to the this question asking what I'm trying to ask?

(I realize that there are other questions about hyphenation in similar contexts; I'm asking specifically about -ly adverbs.)

  • Why do you think it could be different with the -ly adverbs? Any thing you can add can be helpful to answer.
    – Kris
    Mar 6, 2014 at 4:42
  • They're both acceptable, since the similar construction "mechanically-operated" sometimes is and sometimes isn't hyphenated. It's usually not hyphenated today, so I would suggest you leave out the hyphen. See Ngram. Mar 6, 2014 at 13:40
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    @Peter: I know it probably doesn't actually distort the chart much, and obviously your conclusion and advice are correct. But I think hyphenation in "marginal" cases is more likely with (adjective + p.p. verb) modifying a noun before it, rather than after it. Thus, "It was a hard-won point" as opposed to "The point was hard won". Maybe I'm imagining that (both hyphens are "optional" in all our examples here anyway), but "It's a mechanically-operated device" and "The device is mechanically operated" seem like credible usages from a single careful writer. Mar 6, 2014 at 14:56
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    @Kris - A similar question was asked before, and special attention was paid to 1) comparatives/superlatives and 2) adverbs that create ambiguity because they can also can be other parts of speech (such "college" in "college-educated"). I think words ending in -ly generally don't fall into these categories. (It occurs to me now that sometimes they do, such as in "a jelly-filled dougnut" or "a mostly eaten pie".)
    – Max Radin
    Mar 7, 2014 at 4:32

3 Answers 3


If you want to be canonical, this might help. Whether the verb is p.p. or not is irrelevant for these authoritative sources:

In the Guardian and Observer style guide, they state:

  • Hyphens tend to clutter up text (particularly when the computer breaks already hyphenated words at the end of lines).

  • Do not use hyphens after adverbs ending in -ly, e.g. a hotly disputed penalty, a constantly evolving newspaper, genetically modified food, etc,...

The Chicago Manual of Style gives the same advice. (The rules for adverbs not ending with -ly may be of interest. too.) (By the way, this appears to be a pdf taken from CMS. The CMS site requires registration.)

The general rule about hyphens is that they are distracting and should only be used if they resolve an ambiguity or lack of clarity.

(I was going to place this answer here, but I think that is a duplicate of this one, as others have said.)


I have no idea what the sentence is talking about, so I'm in no position to comment on whether a hyphen is appropriate or not, but I can tell you what the general rules are, and you can apply them.

So here are the golden rules of hyphenation:

  1. If everybody uses a hyphen there, so should you.
  2. If nobody uses a hyphen there, neither should you.
  3. If some people use a hyphen there and, in your judgement, a hyphen would help the reader, use a hyphen.
  4. If some people use a hyphen there but, in your judgement, a hyphen wouldn't help the reader, don't use a hyphen.

Not so hard, really.

  • 4
    I've dithered, downvoted, and then retracted. To a first approximation, obviously this is sound advice for almost any question about usage that turns up on ELU. So maybe we should post a "Canonical Question" entitled "What usage is correct?", with this as the "Canonical Answer". Then we could close 99% of all questions asked here as duplicates of it. But I don't really think that idea will fly. Mar 6, 2014 at 15:05
  • @FumbleFingers I won't be offended if you downvote. I have enough karma to spare. :-) I think 99% is too high a figure, but I reckon at least half of the usage questions posted boil down to people not appreciating this basic point. People look for explicit rules, when really it all boils down to: "help the reader, but don't violate their expectations". Come to think of it, Lynne Truss wrote a book that explains this point....
    – Pitarou
    Mar 6, 2014 at 23:13
  • That's a good one - but I'd probably extend it to "help the reader, but don't violate their expectations too often". You need to keep them on their toes with the occasional "shock", or they might just fall asleep reading your deathless prose. “Thurber was asked by a correspondent: "Why did you have a comma in the sentence, 'After dinner, the men went into the living-room'?" And his answer was probably one of the loveliest things ever said about punctuation. "This particular comma," Thurber explained, "was Ross's way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up.” Mar 6, 2014 at 23:30
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    At the risk of trampling on your cabbage patch, I've linked back to it here. Revert the edit if you think it's a bit much, but I think it's highly relevant to your excellent answer there (which I've only just seen for the first time). Mar 6, 2014 at 23:50
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    @FummbleFingers I've expanded on it, rather than reverted. Thanks.
    – Pitarou
    Mar 6, 2014 at 23:59

No, do not use a hyphen. 'Chemically' is an adverb that describes the manner in which tourmaline is deposited. It modifies 'deposited', which in turn, modifies tourmaline. Typically, we use a hyphen after the adverb 'well' when the next word is a participle acting as an adjective. For example:

a well-written book, a well-versed scholar

If the sentence is working fine on its own, don't congest it with unnecessary punctuation as hypens, semi-colons, or commas.

As far as helping the reader, grammar rules exist to do just that. They keep sentences from running on endlessly, give readers a chance to breath between clauses and lists of nouns with a well-placed comma, and keep readers from confusing subjects in a sentence. We should know the grammar rules well and not violate them on a presumption of what our readers will like. Being too liberal in one's style can give some readers the impression that the writer is uneducated. So, try to avoid making decisions about punctuation on a whim. It is important to keep a standard of writing.

Aesthetically, I would argue that hyphens make writing less pleasing to the eye.

Also, hyphens can be used to interject an entire sentence into another when there is some background information that the reader needs to know.

'Last summer this girl, Janie, and I-she was one of those tomboyish types who would sock you in the face if you gave her any lip-decided to go hang out with this other buddy of mine down by the lake.'

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