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Compound Verbs

Many people find rules for writing compound verbs confusing and arbitrary. They end up guessing and producing inconsistent and confusing text that tends to lose the attention of their readers. Credibility is lost, and therefore the power of the message is depleted. Read on and look for examples that can help your writing today.

Compound verbs are usually hyphenated or solid.

  • to air-condition
  • to baby-sit
  • to color-code
  • to double-click
  • to dry-clean
  • to second-guess
  • to window-shop
  • to test-drive
  • to downgrade
  • to ghostwrite
  • to handpick
  • to proofread
  • to shortchange
  • to troubleshoot
  • to waterproof
  • to whitewash

NOTE: If you try to check the spelling of a compound-verb in a dictionary and do not find the verb listed, hyphenate the components.

Do not hyphenate verb phrases such as make up, slow down, tie in.

  • Please kiss and make up.
  • How will you tie in the winner’s remarks?
  • Don’t forget to slow down around curves.

If the infinitive form of a compound verb has a hyphen, retain the hyphen in other forms of the verb.

  • Would you like to air-condition your entire home?
  • The theater was not air-conditioned.
  • We need an air-conditioning expert.
  • You need to double-space all these reports.
  • That material should not be double-spaced.
  • BUT: Leave a double space between paragraphs. (No hyphen in double space as a compound noun.)

The gerund derived from a hyphenated compound verb requires no hyphen unless it is followed by an object.

  • Dry cleaning is the way to clean this blanket.
  • BUT: Dry-cleaning this sweater will not remove the spot.
  • Double spacing would make this table easy to read.
  • BUT: Double-spacing this table would make it easy to read.
  • Spot checking is all we can do.
  • BUT: In spot-checking the data, I found some embarrassing errors.

Source: The Gregg Reference Manual.

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