December 20, 2012

Weekly Language Usage Tips: hyphens & i.e. followed by a comma

Posted in e.g., hyphen, hyphen/compound words, i.e. at 6:25 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Hyphens for the umpteenth time

I started writing the wlut back in 2008 because I was in mourning for the hyphen. It seemed, as I was reviewing people’s work, that no one was using the poor hyphen, and the few brave souls who did use it were using it incorrectly. That sad plight caused me to write about using hyphens more than ten times over the years—I don’t know, but I would bet that it is the most frequent topic here. Or maybe, the comma, another frequent topic.

But sadly, my attempt at correcting this lack of use or misuse of hyphens has come to naught. It is still the most common error that I find. But am I going to give up? No way. I’ll just try harder. I’m taking another tack this time—I will focus on only one use for the hyphen today. Maybe information overload has been the problem.

Today, I am going to talk about using a hyphen to connect two related words that together serve as an adjective. Why is it important for me to say ‘two related words that together serve as an adjective’? Because sometimes, the two related words serve as a noun, and the related words are NEVER hyphenated in a noun.

Maybe an example will make it clearer.

The medical decision-making process can be quite complex.

Here, ‘decision’ and ‘making’ are related, that is, you need both words to clarify the meaning,  and they serve as an adjective describing ‘process,’ and they are hyphenated!

 I don’t know which way to turn when it comes to medical decision making.

In this example, ‘decision’ and ‘making’ are still related, but the related words serve as a noun, so they are NOT hyphenated.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Two related words serving as an adjective—hyphenated. Two related words serving as a noun—not hyphenated.

Let’s try another example:

The hospital’s goal is to successfully achieve patient-centered care.

In this example, the related words form an adjective but cannot serve as a noun. But ‘patient’ is related to ‘centered’ and together, they serve as an adjective describing a kind of ‘care,’ so they are hyphenated.

Here’s one with three related words:

The end-of-life discussion made everyone emotional.

 ‘End,’ ‘of,’ and ‘life’ are all related and form an adjective that describes the type of  ‘discussion.’ BUT:

The resident expressed concern that he was uncomfortable talking about the end of life.

Here, ‘end,’ ‘of,’ and ‘life’ form a noun, so it is not hyphenated.

This is it: when words join to form adjectives, they should be hyphenated.





 Got it? Good.

Tip 2: i.e. and e.g. followed by a comma

A reader writes:

RE: i.e.

 In looking at the prior wlut post on this abbreviation, I notice that you used a comma after i.e. but did not formally address the punctuation issue.

 However, looking online, I found inconsistent recommendations about whether to use a comma after or not


 Ah, the old British English versus American English differences in language and grammar! This is one of those things. In America, we use a comma after ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ In the UK, there is no comma following the Latin abbreviations. Most American style manuals agree with the convention of using the comma.

And just as a reminder: ‘i.e.’ stands for id est and means ‘that is.’ ‘E.g.’ stands for exempli gratia and means ‘for example.’

And what about the periods? Use them. We are talking about abbreviations here, and we always include periods in abbreviations. Nearly, ALL style manuals agree.

Now, I am going to tell you something, but I don’t really want you to hear it, so if you all put your fingers in your ears and sing ‘la la la’ during this next part, I would be most appreciative. Here goes. There is only one style guide that I could find that does not use the periods in abbreviations like ‘i.e.’ and ‘e.g.’ but instead uses ‘ie’ and ‘eg,’ and that is the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style. I don’t know why. I am at a loss. I assume it has something to do with the space the periods take. After all, they recommend the use of numerals (symbols) instead of written out numbers, which is also antithetical to most style guides. I can’t think of any good reason for it. I can’t find any explanation—all the Manual of Style says is to use these abbreviations ‘with care.’ That helps a lot. [Read the last part imagining a sarcastic tone.]

Okay, you can take your fingers out of your ears, now.

Practically everybody else calls for it, so this is my recommendation: Always use the periods in these Latin abbreviations, including in JAMA and in other AMA publications. If they don’t want them, the copy editors will take them out. That way, you get in the habit of using them, and they are required almost all of the time.

And the AMA Manual of Style also calls for a comma after the abbreviation. Go figure.

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