Grammar Roast blog series by Dee Cunning Creative Content & Copywriting

Grammar Roast: Why Hyphenated -ly Adverbs Make My Blood Boil

Can you smell that? Plump with promise, marinated in intrigue, it’s the headline you’ll give your right index finger to read. Illuminated behind the oven door of your 1080p laptop screen, lies the Senokot of easily digestible stories, beckoning you in. “What the hell?,” you shrug before slicing your eyes through 450 characters of crisp introductory skin, until – wait, you must be fucking kidding me – another poorly-cooked article that’s begging for the bin!

Welcome to Grammar Roast. The deliciously self-indulgent corner of my blog where my inner grammar pedant – and penchant for poetic introductions – runs free. Stick with me, and you’ll learn some do’s, but mostly the definite do not’s of grammar, as dictated by my latest fit of internet-fueled fury. Disclaimer: I’m not perfect either, but some things are just too sickening to forgive.


Today’s roast: hyphenated -ly adverbs, and why they make me seethe


If your gradar (grammar radar) is keen, you will have already spotted the deliberate error in my first paragraph – don’t think you’re getting off easily. Now, let me ask you this: reading the words poorly cooked, would you think of anything other than that time you accidentally blew up your microwave (true story)? Would you believe for one minute that the article in question was not indeed cooked poorly? If your answer is yes, GTFO.

You see, when an adverb ending in ly is followed by an adjective or a participle adjective, ambiguity is virtually impossible. The hyphen is totally uncalled-for. So why is everyone using it?


Enter a little thing called hypercorrection


Think of the lowly hyphen as a seed. It wants writers to eat it so that it can be dispersed to new sites and branch out all over the worldwide web as a bad-grammar weed. Because, if you know anything about writing, you’ll know that when two or more adjectives that express a single concept precede a noun, hyphens are used to link all the words in the compound.

Take my example, bad-grammar weed. Without the hyphen, it is the weed, not the grammar, that is bad. Sure, it’s a nuance, but the hyphen works to make the distinction. The same applies to the adverb well. It must be hyphenated when it is part of a compound modifier, for example, the well-known rule – but not when it comes after the noun, as in, the rule is well known.

With all of that in mind, it’s easy to get trigger-happy with hyphens, to the point of hypercorrection. Then add to that the context of the internet, where most writers are self-taught and where most writing is not professionally edited. With the insane amount of content we consume daily, we read read read the same mistakes until we’re make make making them too. If so-and-so from ‘The Guardian’ is hyphenating his -ly adverbs, then that must be the thing to do.


TL;DR, because who actually has an attention span?


  • DO use hyphens to link adjectives or participle adjectives that express a single concept before a noun, for example, bad-grammar weed

  • DO hyphenate well when it is part of a compound modifier (before the noun), for example, well-known rule

  • NEVER hyphenate adverbs ending in ly or the adverb very, if you want to keep your typing fingers


Until next time, cunning writers.


In the mood for more reading? Check out my articles here.


Picture credit: Codex Seraphinianus

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