People have strong feelings about what they consider to be correct English. The strange thing is that language quirks that bother some people don’t even register as mistakes with others who, in turn, might be quietly appalled at something they consider to be very bad English. One prime example is the grocer’s apostrophe, inserted quite superfluously before the closing ‘s’ of a plural word. So we don’t eat bananas, we eat banana’s…
This redundant apostrophe is so common on shop boards, notices, menus (I even spotted one recently in a school), that a lot of people don’t even notice it any more, except perhaps to register surprise when the offending fruit is correctly listed on the greengrocer’s billboard.
Now it looks like hyphens are going the same way. Frequently misplaced and misused, hyphens are popping up all over the place. Even the most respectable publishers in the land, including the BBC, Guardian and Telegraph, are now at it.
The problem is the new habit of putting a hyphen after adverbs that end in ‘ly’. Some examples from recent broadsheet papers include ‘a highly-charged meeting’, a ‘boldly-accessorised outfit’ and a ‘frequently-changed price list’ and, from a BBC language learning website no less, ‘deeply-rooted beliefs’ and ‘brightly-lit streets’.
There’s no need at all for a hyphen in these cases, so it’s hard to know why this mistake is so common.
The confusion probably arises because compound adjectives, which are adjectives formed from two words, get a hyphen if they come before the noun. So you’d have a hyphen in ‘red-blooded men’ ‘well-worn clothes’ and ‘ice-cold waters’, not least because it avoids any ambiguity and the possibility that the reader might momentarily wonder what a ‘blooded man’ is.
For most adverbs ending in ‘ly’, though, there’s no doubt what you mean, so you don’t need to hyphenate to prevent ambiguity. It’s a safe bet that everyone knows what ‘freshly baked bread’, ‘newly minted coins’ and even ‘brightly lit streets’ are without a hyphen to show them the way.
So don’t be tempted to hyphenate here. Even though some media giants that should know better do it all the time.