Hyphenated Words: Four-poster

May 2, 2002: Issue 21

SIM STYLE: Why do noun-verb contractions often get written out by copy editors?
Because such a construction can be misread as a possessive, especially if it comes at the beginning of a sentence and the context is not yet clear. In most cases, ditch the contraction and write out both words.
incorrect: The coffee’s ready.
correct: The coffee is ready.

Like every good rule, however, this one has a time and a place to be broken. If a contraction is well-established and the reader won’t be confused, leave it. Changing “Soup’s on!” to “The soup is on!” is just plain silly.

GRAMMAR: What should I call the tall polelike objects at the corners of a bed?
They’re posts. The bed itself may be called a “four-poster,” “six-poster,” or perhaps even the oh-so-snappy “poster bed,” but the poles are always posts, never posters.

Consider a similar example: Your 8-year-old may be a “third-grader,” but the class level is a “grade.” It wouldn’t make sense to say, “Which grader is your child in?”

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