Diagramming Constructions with Hyphens
There are two uses of hyphens in English.
(1) Some words have a hyphen as part of their spelling. These words are treated in diagramming as single words. Some examples are tractor-trailer, light-year, and hyphenated number-words such as thirty-five.
(2) In other situations, hyphens are used to clarify the structure of modification. The following diagrams are meant to illustrate how such hyphens work.
In the first example, the writer is thinking of a blue lake that is deep. In the second example, the writer is thinking of a lake with two qualities: it is deep, and it is blue. In the third example, the writer is thinking of a lake that is deep blue in color. In the first case, we have a series of adjectives; in the second case, we have coordinated adjectives; and in the third case, we have deep acting as an adverb to modify the adjective blue.
A hyphen is necessary in the third case, in order to distinguish that case from the first case. Note especially that in the complete sentence The lake is deep blue, a hyphen is not necessary, because there is no ambiguity about what deep is modifying.
In diagramming, when a hyphen indicates the structure of modification, the diagram should reflect that structure, as in the illustration above.
Click here to return to the list of special problems.
Click here to return to the "Syntax" home page.