Hyphens. Use them. They’re important.

I hate to follow one rant with another one, but I’ve got to get this off my chest. Look at these pictures:

A high-school student

This is a high-school student.

A high school student.

This is a high school student.

See the difference? The first picture is of a high-school student (my elder daughter, Madeline). The second picture is of a high school student (Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). That’s the difference a hyphen can make in the meaning of a sentence. The first picture depicts a typical 16-year-old girl; the second picture shows the kind of guy she won’t be allowed to date.

American English is really lenient about the use of hyphens in compound adjectives, but I’m seeing a lot more sentences lately where the missing hyphen makes a difference in the meaning of the sentence.

(I’m pretty sure there are some grammar mistakes in this post. Fire away!)

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