The Practical Guide: The Appropriate Use and Necessity of Hyphens

When I went grocery shopping at the Forks Market last weekend, I saw a sign at the Tall Grass Prairie Bakery that read:

All day old bread for $1.50!

The sign was posted in front of a stand full of delicious-looking baked goods. I immediately grabbed a bag of whole wheat buns, a loaf of spelt bread, and a loaf of whole wheat bread. Even as I was choosing my bread, however, I was amused by the wording of the sign.

As the proofreader of a newspaper, one of the mistakes that I most frequently catch is a lack of hyphens. This under-used punctuation mark can cause a lot of problems with regards to clarity if it is missing.

For example: should this sign have¬†been written¬†“All-day old bread for $1.50”, or “All day-old bread for $1.50”? The former suggests that this sale is lasting for the entire day, but it does not specify when the bread was baked (today? Yesterday? A week ago?). The latter suggests that the on-sale bread was baked the day before.

The bread at this bakery gets snapped up fast, so I think that it is highly unlikely that any of their bread would be sitting around for days on end without being bought. Even so, for the sake of clarity, a hyphen would be a useful way to confirm the freshness of bread on sale!

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