Common Issues in Manuscripts Requiring Corrections: #10 Phrasal Verbs

This is the tenth in a series of posts to address common issues I have found in manuscripts with my suggestions for how to improve them before turning them over to agents, editors, and the many other individuals involved in the process of turning a manuscript into a book.

#10. Phrasal verbs vs HYPHENS

As the WordCloud above illustrates, not all multiple-word phrases need hyphens. Hyphens are handy to identify when two or more words, when combined, mean something different from the two words on their own. For example, a man eating shark is different from a man-eating shark.

Over time, multiple-word expressions have evolved from being spelled as separate words, then words connected with a hyphen, and finally as single words without either a space to separate or a hyphen to combine. Earlier (Common Issues in Manuscripts Requiring Corrections #1), the example of base ball evolving into base-ball and eventually into baseball illustrated this tendency of standard spelling of English words to move away from requiring hyphens.

If I am uncertain whether a hyphen is needed to connect two words that function together, I look up the words in merriam-webster.com. If the combination of the words with a hyphen does not appear as its own entry, but the two words together as one word does, the hyphen is no longer needed and what were once two words should be written as one. If the combination of words with a hyphen does not appear and the two words together as a single word also do not appear, a hyphen is probably needed.

For example, neither upsidedown nor upside-down appear, and the phrase upside down appears in merriam-webster.com as an adverb, but not as an adjective. To refer to an upside-down map of the world, therefore, it’s appropriate to use the hyphen since the two words together, used as a modifier, are not yet in the dictionary as a single word.

Be careful to check the part of speech of the entry. Frequently two words are appropriate for verbs when the noun form has shifted to being spelled as one word and the hyphenated form exists as an adjective.

One category of verbs is often mistaken for requiring a hyphen between the words—phrasal verbs. These two- and three-word phrasal verbs are formed by combining a common verb with a particle (a short word that looks very much like a preposition but doesn’t function as one). which changes the meaning of the verb.

Some of these verbs function as transitive verbs which may make them look like the particle after the verb is a preposition with the noun after it the object of the preposition, but it isn’t. The meaning of the combination of words is not the same as the meaning of the verb itself. The fine points of how to describe these words is a matter for grammarians to deal with. Writers just need to know how to spell them.

Look out!” the audience said as the villain approached the heroine from behind her.

Look out functions as a phrasal verb with the meaning Take care or Be careful.

She promised to look after her younger brother while her parents were at worked.

look after is a phrasal verb, also meaning take Care with her younger brother serving as the direct object of the phrasal verb.

Following are some examples of two- and three-word phrasal verbs that do not need hyphens to connect them:

WordAs It Appears in merriam-webster.com
look afternot listed as a separate phrasal verb, but mentioned in the definition of look
look atnot listed as a separate phrasal verb, but mentioned in the definition of look
look fornot listed as a separate phrasal verb, but mentioned in the definition of look
look forwardnot listed as a separate phrasal verb, but mentioned in the definition of look
look forward tonot listed as a separate phrasal verb, but mentioned in the definition of look with an example that includes to your visit as if the phrase is the object of look forward. To me it’s clear look forward to is a separate transitive phrasal verb with your visit as the direct object.
look intonot listed as a separate phrasal verb, but mentioned in the definition of look
look outtwo words listed as the verb; one word, without either space or hyphen, as a noun
look overtwo words as a verb
look tonot listed as a separate phrasal verb, but mentioned in the definition of look
look uptwo words as the verb; one word, without either space or hyphen, as the noun
look up tothree words, listed as a phrasal verb

None of these phrasal verbs need a hyphen. Don’t attempt to reduce your word count to get a piece under the limit by sprinkling hyphens between verbs and their particles. I can assure you it will drive the editor crazy.

Categories: Writing and EditingTags: , ,

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