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Hyphenating Adverbs or not in English Grammar

Updated on October 12, 2011

We all know that there are total 8 parts of (speech):

1. Noun

2. Pronoun.

3. Adjective.

4. Adverb.

5. Verb.

6. Preposition.

7. Conjunction.

8. Interjection.

1. Adverbs are (words) which modify adjectives, verbs, or other adverbs.

Some examples of adverbs are again, most, more, almost, very, before, otherwise, within, always, now, already, backwards, daily, meanwhile, since, altogether, far, sometimes, too, late, lately, early, once, twice, thrice, quite, enough, rather, often, away, seldom, frequently, extremely, quietly, highly, surely, etc.

2. Adverb modifying adverb: Suman is walking quite fast. Here “walking” is a verb that is being modified by the adverb “fast” which in turn is modified by another adverb “quite”.

3. Some adverbs have double meaning; one is without -ly and the other is with -ly:

  • hard (Suman is working hard.)
  • hardly (Suman hardly needs any help.)
  • nearnearly
  • latelately

4. Like adjectives, adverbs too can have their degrees: positive, comparative, and superlative. Not all adverbs, but some.

  • Much—more—most
  • Little—less—least
  • Well—better—best
  • Far—farther—farthest
  • Long—longer—longest

5. There are many adjectives which are also used as adverbs:

  • Adjective The train is fast enough to reach New York in time.
  • Adverb: The train is running fast.
  • Adjective: My cushioned chair has been replaced by a hard wooden one.
  • Adverb: I am trying hard to master the kung fu art.

6. Words that end in –ly are (mostly) adverbs. These adverbs are (formed) by adding –ly to adjectives

  • It is raining heavily.
  • We observed extremely high frequency seismic waves…

7. Hyphenation in compound modifiers:Adverbs are (never) hyphenated for example, “most” or any of the adverbs listed in item 1. However, those listed in item 1 are examples, not a full list of adverbs.

8. A compound modifier which starts with an adverb is never hyphenated:

Data indicate extremely high frequency seismic waves coming out of the earth.

The reason for this rule is that the compound modifier here, which is modifying the noun “seismic waves,” is made of 3 words – an adverb, an adjective and a noun. The noun (frequency) is modified by the adjective (high) and the adjective (high) is modified by the adverb (extremely). That is, the function of the adverb is limited to modifying the adjective. But if you hyphenate the term (as some people tend to do) to extremely high-frequency it would mean that extremely is modifying high-frequency, which is not correct, and it cannot be correct, going by the rules of grammar as well as the expanded meaning of the term. For the expanded meaning of the term, extremely high frequency means “a frequency that is extremely high,” which is of course the correct and intended meaning. But if you make it extremely high-frequency it would mean “a high-frequency that is extremely” which is meaningless. Therefore:

  • Data indicate high-frequency seismic waves coming out of the earth.
  • Data indicate extremely high frequency radiation coming out of the earth.

It is not that all the readers will not get the correct meaning if you write “extremely high-frequency” or “most highly-cited references,” rather many readers will get the correct meaning regardless of the hyphen. But even an occasional misinterpretation could be averted if we follow the rules of grammar consistently regarding the functions of the respective parts of speech while hyphenating.

Please keep in mind that this rule applies to all adverbs in compound modifiers, including “very” which occurs in compound modifiers quite often (like, very high frequency).


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    • htodd profile image

      htodd 6 years ago from United States

      Hyphenation in Grammar is important ..Great informative article

    • ellablake23 profile image

      ellablake23 6 years ago

      WOW! It is really an awesome hub. It is very useful rules which is used in grammar. I will definitely follow these rules.