Originally posted on Grammar Monkeys on Feb. 25, 2011.
One of the regular features we do on Twitter is “Why we need hyphens”: phrases that have different meanings depending on whether there’s a hyphen. These usually occur when a noun has a compound modifier, that is, a modifier that is made up of more than one word.
The classic example of this is “small-business owner” vs. “small business owner.” Is the owner of a business diminutive, or is the business itself small? Depends on the hyphen.
Because a heavy-equipment operator is not the same as a heavy equipment operator.
Because hazardous-materials training is not the same as hazardous materials training.