A compound adjective is an adjective that comprises more than one word. Usually,
hyphens are used to link the words together to show that it is one adjective.
Please request a four-foot table.
('Four-foot' is an adjective describing the table. A hyphen is used to link 'four'
and 'foot' to show that it is one adjective.)
It is a 6-page document.
Claire worked as a part-time keeper at the safari park.
That is an all-too-common mistake.
Compound Adjectives from Proper NounsOften adjectives are formed from proper nouns (i.e., the names of things), which should be written using capital letters. In these circumstances, there is no need to group the words together using hyphens.
Did you manage to get the Billy Elliot tickets?
(The words 'Billy Elliot' are one adjective describing the tickets. As the capital
letters group the words, there is no need to use a hyphen.)
Dead' (This is correct. It's a compound
adjective using title case.)
Compound Adjectives with Quotation Marks and Italics
Although a less common practice, it is also possible to group the words in a compound adjective using quotation marks, italics or a combination of the two. (Italics tend to be used for foreign words.)
It is an ab initio course (i.e.,
(italics used to group the adjective)
Amber looked at the stick in the water, looked me in the eye and then turned
away, giving me a "get it yourself" look.
(quotation marks used to group the adjective)
For more than ten years, Jack claimed to be part of the
"Mary Celeste" crew
before admitting to his cousin at a party that he was not.
(capital letters, italics and quotation marks used to group the adjective)
Adverbs and Compound Adjectives
As covered in the lesson Adverbs,
an adjective is often preceded by a word like very, well, beautifully or
extremely. (These are adverbs.) Usually, there is no need to link an adverb to an adjective using a hyphen.
Young Tracey is an extremely brave girl.
(The adverb 'extremely' modifies the adjective 'brave' but is not part of it.
There is no need to group it and 'brave' together with a hyphen.)
It was a beautifully painted portrait in a skilfully carved frame.
(The adverb 'beautifully' adds to the adjective 'painted' but is not part of it.
It is the same with 'skilfully' and 'carved'. There is no need for hyphens.)
However, with words like well and fast (which are both adjectives and adverbs), a hyphen can be used to avoid ambiguity.
Jacob took the well-fatted calf to the riverside.
('well-fatted calf' as in a very plump calf)
Jacob took the well fatted calf to the riverside.
('well fatted calf' could be construed as a 'well' (i.e., healthy) and 'fatted' calf.
In the first example, the 'well-fatted calf' could be ill.)
WATCH THOSE CAPITAL LETTERS|
The noun does not get a capital letter unless it is part of the title.
Did you manage to get the Billy Elliot Tickets?
The village fete will be held on the Red Lion lawn.
USE A HYPHEN WITH WELL |
The following rule will cover most scenarios:
When preceding an adjective with the adverb well, use a hyphen.
well-known actor (< hyphen with
widely known actor (< no hyphen with any other adverb)