12 sentences that demonstrate why we need to be better at using hyphens


[Image description: A fancy cake on a white platter, in the sunlight. The cake is yellow with a brown crust. On top are pieces of fruit (mango, strawberries) as well as chocolate curls and sticks. Image from pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Today’s blog post will be short because I am in Oakland this entire week for a training and I just got back to my hotel room, which I’m pretty sure is haunted. (It feels haunted). And also, it’s my birthday today, and I don’t want to think very hard.

So instead of the profound post I was planning to write, I am going to rant about a seemingly minor but very serious problem that has been affecting our sector: the madness-inducingly poor usage of hyphens.

Just when we finally figured out the importance of the Oxford Comma, which is elegant, practical, and majestic–#OxfordCommaForever—I’ve been seeing more and more errors around hyphen usage. Even the brilliant leaders whom I respect make mistakes. I know that our sector has important things to work on, but just look at these abominations of nature:

  1. “We help small business owners through coaching and workshops.” You mean “small-business owners.” Unless, your mission really is to help business owners who are physically small. 
  2. “There was a glitch with our email system, so I resent the invitation to our gala.” You mean you “re-sent.” Unless, you actually do resent the invitation to the gala, and some of us do.
  3. “We are a community of color led nonprofit.” It’s “community-of-color-led nonprofit.” I know that’s a lot of hyphens, but each one is important.
  4. “Did you prepare the agenda for the off site retreat this week?” It’s “off-site.” Don’t make me fight you.
  5. “Our org supports women and minority owned businesses.” That’s great, but the women-and-minority-owned businesses would appreciate it if you use hyphens. (Edit: As a colleague mentions in the comment section, it might be “women- and minority-owned businesses,” or if you’re confused, just write “women-owned and minority-owned businesses” or “businesses owned by women and minorities.”
  6. “In his spare time, Ed enjoys cooking and hiking with his eight year old twins.” Worst bio ever. I won’t be able to pay attention to your keynote. It’s “eight-year-old twins.” And also don’t write “eight-year old twins,” which is now talking about the twins being old, or “eight year-old twins,” which is now possibly referring to eight separate one-year-old kids.
  7. “I bought some gluten free muffins for the team meeting.” Aw, that’s sweet. But you mean “gluten-free.”
  8. “Twenty eight people attended the house party.” In general, anything after 10 shouldn’t be spelled out. If you have to do it, though, use hyphens.
  9. “Our board chair is a know it all.” Do they know how to use hyphens?
  10. “three fourth of the program participants have not filled out their evals.” That’s a serious problem. I’m talking about the missing hyphen.
  11. “My great grandfather wants to put your organization in his will.” Is he your great-grandfather? Or he’s your grandfather and he’s just really great? Either way, we’ll take his money, but it helps to know.
  12. “This good for nothing post is the worst you’ve ever written.” Nuh uh.

If you are confused about when to use or not use hyphens, here’s a handy list of rules. Like the Oxford Comma and the single space after periods, this may be hard for some of you. Most of us don’t even notice it. But only when we have all mastered the usage of hyphens can our sector unleash its full potential.

Oh, and as another colleague mentions in the comment section, don’t ever hyphenate “nonprofit.” 

Meanwhile, I end with this sentence, written by a colleague, that fully demonstrates the consequences of not using hyphens. She wrote, “Some days you get to eat fancy ass cake for breakfast on air while promoting your event, and all is right with the world.”

This is what happens when you don’t use hyphens correctly. You eat ass cake. And you will never live it down.


Hi everyone. Today, March 12th, is my birthday (#PiscesForever!), and since this day is all about me, I will use this once-a-year opportunity to ask you for money. If you enjoy Nonprofit AF, please donate to my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, or to our partner organizations.

RVC works to develop leaders of color for our sector, as well as to strengthen organizations led by and serving communities of color. Our partner organizations do incredible work. Here are the ones that host our amazing fellows. And here are ones we provide operations support to so they can focus on their important community-building missions.  

Please donate $12 to RVC or our partner organizations. That’s just $1 per month to read 50 NAF posts each year. This blog takes me about 8 to 15 hours a week to write and manage. If everyone who reads NAF just donates $12* every year, it would raise nearly half a million dollars and allow me to freak out less about fundraising, which means I can write more.

Oh, and if you can write a review of a foundation on GrantAdvisor.org, or ask your grantees to review you there, that would be an amazing gift. (I’m on the leadership panel of Grant Advisor).

Thank you for making my birthday awesome, and for all you do to make our world better.

(*any amount is appreciated)