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Introduction and Table of Contents

Were I but King of Anglophonia

Well. Well, well. Well-well.

How's your well-being? Are you well-satisfied? The King certainly isn't, and seeing his subjects use a hyphen to attach well to the word that follows it is one of the main reasons he's not feeling terribly well.

Among the rules of the spectacularly wonderful English language is this one: Compound adjectives preceding the noun they modify are hyphenated, whereas compound adjectives following the noun they modify are not hyphenated. So you would write about the red-brown dog, but you would also write that the dog is red brown. Looks a bit odd, but that's the rule, and it's one the King approves of, so learn it and use it.

Now, here's where all of this becomes too complicated for many people who otherwise understand English quite well.

In the early 18th century, Johann Sebastian Bach published a collection of preludes under the title Das wohltemperierte Klavier. Or in English, The Well Tempered Clavier. (In case you care, Klavier means keyboard.) (Whether or not you care about that, you are probably wondering where His Majesty is going with this. Being a loyal and prudent subject, you don't ask but instead wait to find out.) Now, some people spell the English translation of Bach's book of preludes The Well-Tempered Clavier, thus proving how shallow is their understanding of the compound-adjective rule enunciated above. This confusion is spreading even among the delusionally self-styled literati, and the King is determined to put a stop to it.

You see, in the above examples, red and brown are both adjectives. They both modify the noun dog. So together they are a compound adjective and are properly hyphenated when they precede the noun they modify, i.e., dog. However, in the book title given above, well is not an adjective modifying clavier. Rather, it is an adverb, and it modifies the adjective tempered. So the combination well tempered is not a compound adjective.

Hyphenating well tempered is the moral equivalent of hyphenating the adjective-noun combination United States. Would you write, "George W. Bush is the President of the United-States"? Of course not. Being a sensible and historically aware person, you would write, "George W. Bush, that pustule on the rear end of the species, pretends that he is President of the United States, but all sensible people know that he's really just a reeking pile of horse manure in the approximate shape of a man whom some people mistakenly call the President of the United States."

Remember: well preceding an adjective is never an adjective itself. It is always an adverb. It always modifies the adjective that follows it. Therefore, it is NEVER correct, in the rational Kingdom of Anglophonia, to connect well to the following adjective with a hyphen.

Be forewarned. You will see this grammatical error frequently - in many cases, committed by people who think they are the cat's pajamas in matters of English usage. They are silly, thoughtless, and headed down the slippery path to Hellfire. As a loyal subject of the King, and moreover one who quite understandably wishes to curry the royal favor, you should always correct such people loudly and, if need be, aggressively.


You can probably tell how strongly the King feels about this matter. This is not a trivial or frivolous thing. Really, it's far more serious than, say, the Albigensian Heresy. And we know what happened to those people. These are gentler times than the 13th Century, however. Subjects who violate the King's version of the hyphenation rule will only be dumped in a well.


The King is well aware that hyphenation, followed later by combination into one word, is an old part of the evolutionary process in the spectacularly wonderful English language. This evolutionary flexibility is a major factor in the language's essential super-duperness. Nonetheless, the King urges judiciousness and common sense.

Yes, words that frequently occur together have a tendency to become a hyphenated pair and then eventually a single word. But does anyone with a sensitive eye and an artistic nature not shudder when reading about the backseat of a car or the backyard of a house? All sensible and sensitive people should abhor such ticky-tacky Supergluing.

Even if you lack the spine and gumption required to stand up to such linguistic trends, at least be sensible. For example, you will sometimes see something like the following in compare software manuals: "Now we will set-up your computer." This usage is intolerable! It must be put a stop to! It will not be put up with! (Practice using the passive voice and ending sentences with prepositions. Both habits are good for you. Report those who tell you otherwise to the Royal Secret Police.)

Queen Leonore's Addition

Set-up is a noun. E.g., one might say, while admiring a friend's recently acquired computer hardware, "That's quite a set-up you have there!" The verb is to set up. Your friend had to set up his hardware before you could admire his set-up.

Introduction and Table of Contents

Main PageBusiness Secrets from the StarsEssaysNovels & Short StoriesAnother Chance at Life: A Breast Cancer Survivor's JourneyTell a friend about this pageE-mail