I described this as "vertically carved characters":

enter image description here

I was told that you usually put an hyphen when you have a verb.

I did a Google search, and I found both the hyphen and hyphenless versions:

[...] to form a horizontally-carved raceway [...]


On top of the stone plaque are two vertically carved Chinese characters [...]


What's the correct answer? Or at least the most common format?


The first example is incorrect.

A compound adjective is formed by two (or more) words that jointly describe a noun. Such adjectives are usually hyphenated so as to indicate that they form a single unit. The use of a hyphen also aids clarity and removes any ambiguity for the reader. A better example of this is shown in the following sentences:

  1. I saw a man eating bear
  2. I saw a man-eating bear

The first sentence suggests that I saw a man who was eating a bear. The second clarifies that the bear I saw generally eats men.

When it comes to compounds formed by an adverb ending in -ly and an adjective, these are NEVER hyphenated. This is because ambiguity is almost impossible and so, the hyphenation is redundant.

Merriam-Webster has a useful discussion on this here. Please see the section called "Hyphenating "-ly" adverbs".

Here is an additional reference on Writing Explained.

  • What about the sentence "I climbed vertically aligned bars"... isn't that ambiguous? Are you climbing vertically, or are the bars vertically-aligned?
    – Astralbee
    Jan 15 '20 at 14:18
  • The alternative interpretation of the sentence you have given, that is, "I climbed vertically (aligned bars)" makes absolutely no sense. The only way that would be conveyed correctly is to phrase it, "I climbed aligned bars vertically".
    – LnZ
    Jan 15 '20 at 14:23
  • 1
    Well, it sounds reasonable to me, upvoted.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 15 '20 at 14:34
  • I'm tempted to think the -ly adverb rule is a US English one. I'd never heard of it before today. Many British style guides don't mention it at all, but I found this old link from the BBC - bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/youmeus/learnit/… Jan 15 '20 at 15:45

Yes - if you use a whole word as a prefix it is normally hyphenated (unless a recognised compound word exists).

Vertically-carved characters.

You could, of course, omit the hyphen by saying instead:

The characters are carved vertically.

  • What do you think of what it is stated in the other answer? "When it comes to compounds formed by an adverb ending in -ly and an adjective, these are NEVER hyphenated."
    – alexchenco
    Jan 15 '20 at 14:06
  • @alexchenco I don't want to say it is wrong but I'll challenge it and see how he replies.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 15 '20 at 14:17
  • How she replies. Take a look at the references I gave. As a first-language speaker as well as an editor of academic journal articles for an international company, this is a well-known rule.
    – LnZ
    Jan 15 '20 at 14:19
  • @LnZ Sorry ma'am, I mistook your cat for a big bushy beard.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 15 '20 at 14:20
  • 1
    Haha! Easily done (not really, but hey). You're forgiven! ;)
    – LnZ
    Jan 15 '20 at 14:24

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