Grammar Tip – Hyphens with Adjectives

Bonnie’s question: “In one of your biztips, would you please explain how to write terms such as ‘up to date’ and ‘cost effective’ as adjectives?”

BIzWritingTip response: Sometimes, words change the way they are written because of their order in a sentence. When two or more words form one unit and are placed before a noun, they are called a compound adjective. You need to use a hyphen to join these words.

This is a cost-effective program. (Cost-effective has become one thought modifying the noun program.)
The up-to-date manual is on my desk. (Up-to-date expresses one thought and is followed by the noun mauual.)
I would like a three-week vacation.
We need more high-tech equipment.

But there must be a noun after these words. When compound phrases are not immediately followed by a noun, do not hyphenate them.

This program is cost effective. (Cost effective is not hyphenated because it is not followed by a noun.)
The manual is up to date. (There is no noun following up to date so the words are not hyphenated.)
I want a vacation of three weeks.
Our equipment is high tech.

Exceptions: There are some combinations of words so well known that they do not require a hyphen. A few examples follow:
branch office reports                high school diploma            life insurance policy
money market funds                income tax returns                real estate sign
accounts payable office          nuclear energy plant            public relations plan

When in doubt about whether to add hyphens, check a dictionary.