There are so many style points that writers think they’re SUPPOSED to know. So they’re embarrassed that they don’t know them. It’s a waste of valuable energy – energy that could be spent writing. A classic example: hyphenation.
Here, according to AP and its go-to dictionary, are some “correct” hyphenation choices.
A well-known couple
A recently married couple
A full-time worker
Joe works full time
The job is full-time
A copy-edited manuscript
A manuscript copy edited by Joe
A water-skier water-skis on water skis
Jane is a 12-year-old
Jane is 12 years old
No one expects writers to know all these. Heck, no one even expects copy editors to know all these. We have to look them up.
When it comes to hyphenation, the only things a writer needs to know are:
1. Hyphens are most commonly used to form compound modifiers that come before a noun, with the goal of avoiding confusion: “a man eating duck” vs. “a man-eating duck.”
2. Sometimes a hyphen is part of a word’s official spelling. Only the dictionary knows all these.
3. Hyphens are an art, not a science. Clarity and common sense trump the “rules.”