Commonly Misused Words: Extra

 November 6, 2008: Issue 263

When you use extra as an adverb meaning very, you usually don’t need a hyphen to join it to the word it modifies:
Make your holidays extra special.

You do need a hyphen, however, when extra is part of a compound modifier preceding the word it modifies:
We’re planning extra-special holidays this year.

Why the hyphen? Consider this example, where it’s crucial for clarity:
I ordered six extra-large sweatshirts, two large, and six medium.
Should I order four extra large shirts so we don’t run out?

When extra is a prefix meaning outside, join it to the base word with no hyphen:

Party: Make your Friday extra special with our kickoff party for CEs’ 62 Days of Holidays. Join us at 3 p.m. in LN-2C to celebrate Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day. Check our calendar to see what other special days we’re marking—and how many books and magazines we’re closing—in the next two months.

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