He read the email quietly for the second time. After a few seconds he started laughing loudly and uncontrollably. Tears of laughter flooded his cheeks.
All people in the office went to his desk to find out what had tickled him.
“What are you laughing at, Paul?” I asked.
He just pointed at the computer screen and kept on laughing his lungs out.
On his computer was this email which read:
“Thank you for lending me those twenty-five dollar bills last week. I deposited the $100 into your bank account this morning. Since we are starting the second phase of our project this week, I want everyone to know that high performance computing is required.”
“Are you mad? What’s funny about this?” Peter asked.
Rewriting the email, I said, “It’s the hyphen confusion. As it is, her sentences are ambiguous. Twenty-five dollar bills are $25. High performance computing might mean three things: (a) computing which performs highly, (b) computing which performs calculations at heights, (c) computing high up (on a shelf or on a roof) which calculates performance. She should have written it like I have written it below.”
“Thank you for lending me those twenty five-dollar bills last week. I deposited the $100 into your bank account this morning. Since we are starting the second phase of our project this week, I want everyone to know that high-performance computing is required.”
The hyphen is often left out or misplaced by many writers. Some don’t know what it is, and others don’t know where to put it.
The Oxford dictionary describes a hyphen as “the mark (- ) used to join two words together to make a new one, as in back-up, or to show that a word has been divided between the end of one line and the beginning of the next.”
This punctuation mark can change the meaning of the whole sentence and sometimes when you don’t put it where it should be, it makes the sentence ambiguous.
Examples of where the hyphen changes the meaning of a sentence are:
(a) He had a disease-causing nutrition. This means he had a nutrition that causes disease. He had a disease causing poor nutrition. This means he had a disease that causes poor nutrition.
(b) My grandfather had little-celebrated paintings. This means my grandfather had paintings that were underappreciated. My grandfather had little celebrated paintings. This means my grandfather had small, appreciated paintings.
(c) They have got very good school-monitoring programs. This means they have got programs that monitor the school. They have got a very good school monitoring programs. This means they have got programs the school monitors.
As a writer, you should make a habit of hyphenating your compound modifiers, for example:
(a) John is my long-standing friend. Not, ‘John is my long standing friend’.
(b) Africa is a copper-producing continent. Not, ‘Africa is a copper producing continent’.
(c) Manchester United and Liverpool played a low-scoring match. Not, ‘Manchester United and Liverpool played a low scoring match’.
You can hyphenate two or more words to make a compound adjective. This is done by hyphenating the words when they come before a noun they modify, for example, a light-green skirt, little-expected news, a state-of-the-art design.
You can also use a hyphen to form an original compound verb for vivid writing, humor or special situations, for example, the king throne-sat for seven years.
You can also use a hyphen when writing new, original, or unusual compound nouns.
However, you should not hyphenate the adverb very and adverbs ending in ly.
Furthermore, the hyphen is used when telling the age of a person or a thing, for example, a thirty-year-old man.
Whenever you write, never forget to hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine.
Moreover, punctuation skills can only be improved through reading and writing. Thus, you should read and write everyday.