A couple of grammar (style?) questions.

Question one.

When using a hyphen to make a compound word, e.g., speed-brakes, and then using the word in a title where initial letters are capitalised, are the letters of both words capitalised or just the first one?


Which is correct?

Question two.

How do you use question marks when asking a question that involves two or more alternative answers.


Did you drive your car to work, or did you take the bus?
Did you drive your car to work? Or did you take the bus?

In a very simple example like, “do you like black or blue?” it seems that option one is the obvious choice. But as the question becomes more long winded and complicated, it becomes less clear to me how I should be using the question mark.

Hyphenated words: Yes, the first letter of each word gets capitalized in a title (unless it’s a preposition or conjunction): Jack-in-the-Pulpit; Rock-and-Roll Hoochy-Koo.

One question mark per sentence.

I concur with twix on point #1. If it’s capitalized in a non-hyphenated compound noun usage, it’s capitalized when grouped with hyphens to serve adjectivally as well. “Pilate’s men mockingly called Jesus ‘King of the Jews.’ This King-of-the-Jews imagery derives from…”

In the case of the question marks, she is also right, but with an exception/clarification. Absolutely, one question mark per sentence (save those truly rare and bizarre cases where an interrogative sentence contains a quoted question not at the end of the frame sentence:. “Would you mind telling me what poet rhetorically asked, ‘Where are the snows of yesteryear?’ if you happen to recall who it was?”).

However, in informal writing, you are correct that the phrasing of a question as a set of alternatives, broken into separate short interrogative sentences, each of which is punctuated with a closing question mark and which are joined by a coordinating conjunction at the beginning of all but the first, is a fairly common stylistic usage. It is not acceptable in formal writing and in most published matter, but it is an effective way to convey the “oral punctuation” of the rising inflection at the end of each element. Read your two examples aloud, and you’ll notice that “work” has a level tone in the first and a rising tone in the second. And informal writing accepts the break into short sentences each ending with a question mark to signify that. But to re-stress, outside dialogue in a story, don’t use it in writing for publication or in a formal setting like a business report. In the latter, such a presentation of alternative interrogatives might better be rephrased as a list with an introducing sentence or clause, e.g.:

Thanks. The question mark issue normally comes up when chatting on MSN Messenger or similar program. Most people would then say, “Who gives a fuck?” Well, I do. In this case I will run with what makes it read closest to my conversational tone.

twickster’s answer brings up another question. When using “but” and “however”, should they generally start a new sentence or continue the previous one? Would you usually place a comma afterward?


Overall the dog had enjoyed his stay at the hotel, the decor was pleasant and the service adequate, however, the meals marred the experience somewhat.

You want a semicolon between “adequate” and “however.”

I personally do not care at all for starting a sentence (or sentence equivalent, such as one following a semicolon) with and, but, or however, but I’m in an increasingly small minority on that. If you **must ** use one of those words to start a sentence, it generally doesn’t need a comma.

ETA: commas and periods go inside the close quotes in American usage.

Yeah I’m aware of that. I think the Australian use is different. At any rate I generally prefer how it looks with the punctuation outside the quotes.

If you say that my sentence requires a semicolon, but you prefer not to use “however” to start a phrase after a semicolon, how would you have written my example sentence?

As twix notes, sentences should ordinarily not begin with a coordinating conjunction (except in the informal usage I noted above). If you do have occasion to use one, a comma following it is a definite solecism.

However, when using a conjunctive adverb such as “however” to link two sentences adveratively, do use the following comma. Also, you should either close out the previous sentence with a period/full stop or else join them with a semicolon. Except in relatively short sentences joined this way, prefer the period-and-new-sentence approach.

Note that “however” also has another usage which demands no following comma, however much you may want to use one. :wink:

Overall the dog had enjoyed his stay at the hotel*:** the decor was pleasant and the service adequate**. The meals, however, somewhat *marred the experience.

Note the colon after hotel; bolded section rearranged and repunctuated.

Bravo to twickster for a copulative colon! (That sounds vaguely obscene! :eek: )

I find it strangely difficult to attempt to write a “usage rule” on when a colon is appropriate other than introducing a list. Half of it is when the matter following the punctuation exemplifies or enumerates what is summarized before, but the other half of proper usage is resistant to description for me. “When it completes the thought of the preceding matter” is hopelessly vague, but waves its arms fecklessly in the general direction of the concept I want to address. Any suggestions for better clarification?

Thanks to both of you. I avoid using a colon, except when introducing a list, simply because I have no idea what to use it for.

Hm, I was thinking of the post-colon clause as a two-item list, which is why I didn’t cap the “T” in “the.”

In the OP, I think both words would be capitalised (example: ‘The new book by racer Velma Darrin, “As My Speed-Brakes Deployed”, has just been released.’), but for some reason both choices seem awkard to me. This probably means that I would try to rewrite it. :slight_smile:

Both the answers to question two are correct (according to my usage, anyways).

I never knew what that usage of the colon was called! I grew up on stuff like Tolkien, so I saw it a lot and I use it, but every now and then, I run into someone here at work who is unfamiliar with it.

Then there are the discussions about hyphenating compound adjectives. I’m for it; other people tend to look at me with “WTF?” expressions on their faces, even when I explain how it improves clarity. Unfortunately, in the last such discussion, the name of the product had already been decided on, without the hyphen. :frowning:

Are these usages of the colon and hyphen uncommon in the States?

Hyphenating compound adjectives is fine by me. However, correct hyphenation of other phrases has led to incorrect hyphenation of the verb form:
Please drive your pick-up truck to the airport for a 2:00 PM pick-up. [OK]

I had to pick-up a client at the airport. [not OK]

In your first example, I would probably combine the words into one: ‘pickup’. But yes, the verb form is ‘pick up’.

Just an aside, but I recently read a Q&A from the Chicago Manual of Style folks (dammit, I forget where), but there was a humorous but true comment stating something to the effect of “whenever a rule of grammar includes the word ‘always’ or the word ‘never,’ find another source.”

Good call. I went back and forth on that.

Arg. The Domino’s Sugar box in the break room?

“Sprinkle-on ideas to perk-up your day!”



When hyphens attack!