Word Tip: Is it One Word, Hyphenated, or Two Words?

grammar lesson on a whiteboard

I like to say I help my clients use the right words to highlight what makes them remarkable and compelling to the people they want to serve. To do that requires knowing what the right words are.

From time to time, I will publish posts that spotlight issues I see people having with word choice, and I will offer tips to help them use the right words.

Today: Words that, when written often confuse: Are they one word, hyphenated, or two words?

Here are some examples. See if you see a pattern emerge.

Anyone/any one — One word for an indefinite reference: Anyone can do that. But two words to single out one element of a group: Any one of them may speak up.

The same rule applies to anybody/any body.

Breakup/Break up — As one word, it’s a noun with several definitions, including “the ending of a personal, especially a romantic, relationship.” It’s also one word when used as an adjective. As two words, it’s a verb meaning the act of ending that personal relationship.

Cover-up/cover up — As a hyphenated word, it’s a noun meaning “any action, strategy or means of concealing or preventing exposure.” It’s also hyphenated when used as an adjective. As two words, it’s a verb meaning to place something completely over it.

Dead-end/Dead end — As a hyphenated word, it’s an adjective that refers to something hopeless. As two words, it’s a noun meaning something that has no exit.

Fiance/Fiancee — One e at the end refers to a male who’s engaged. The other refers to a female who’s engaged.

If gender-neutral words are needed, use engaged or planing to marry or something similar.

Hang-up/hang up — As hyphenated, it’s a noun meaning “a preoccupation, fixation, snag, impediment.” As two words, it’s a verb meaning “to fasten or attach so that it is supported from above”or “to end a telephone conversation.”

Letup/let up — As one word, it’s a noun that means “cessation, pause, relief.” As two words, it’s a verb meaning to allow to rise or elevate.

Makeup/make up — One words usually refers to cosmetics. It’s also an adjective. Two words is a verb meaning “to invent, create or reconcile.”

Stand-in/stand in — They mean the same thing: “substitute.” Hyphenated is a noun and adjective, two words is a verb.

Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan

Imagine cradling your book in your arms. See yourself thumbing through the pages, reading the words, recognizing that what’s contained therein is your story, laid out for all to see. This symbol of your life is part catharsis and part healing. Your journey is complete, and you’ve reached the people who needed to hear your story.

You have a story that just has to be told. If you don’t get it out of your head, you will regret it. You know that if people just could tap into the wisdom that's inside you, their lives would change for the better.

You’ve probably been feeling like you need to sit down and get it on paper. But you haven’t made it a priority. Maybe it’s because you hate writing or you don’t consider yourself a writer. Perhaps the thought of you dedicating hours a day to organizing and writing your story is too overwhelming when piled on top of life’s demands.

Or maybe you’re beset with terror: "What if my story isn’t interesting or compelling enough to reach a wide audience? Am I good enough to tell it? Can I make it irresistible, a must-read?"

You're not alone. The vast majority of people who have experienced what life has to offer have a story to tell that’s worthwhile, unique and compelling, but they never get to do it for a wider audience.

Why is it so hard? Why are you like the 97% of people who start their book don’t finish it? There is a world of difference between having the story in your head and being able to get it down on paper.

What most people don’t realize is that having the story and writing the story require two different skill sets.

The more worthwhile and compelling your story is, the more critical it is to have a professional writer give it the treatment it deserves so it will touch lives in the way you envision. That’s why it’s so important to partner with a specialist who’s an expert in the art of storytelling. Your story is too important to leave to an amateur.

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