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Oct 21 / Gracie Leavitt

Confusing commas and quirky hyphens: A follow-up

In the last two weeks we’ve covered comma- and hyphen-related constructions common to sportswriting scenarios. Having touched upon some basics, let’s fill out each of these topics just a bit more, with special attention paid to cases of quirky punctuation.

Commas and Compound Predicates

A compound predicate consists of two or more verbs joined by a coordinating conjunction and sharing one subject. Here’s an example:

CORRECT: The A’s face an uphill battle and need some big-time pitching in the weeks ahead.

In this sentence, the verbs “face” and “need” are joined by the conjunction “and,” with both verbs belonging to the subject “the A’s.”

However, we’ll often see a comma erroneously inserted between the two verbs in such constructions.

WRONG: The A’s face an uphill battle, and need some big-time pitching and clutch hitting in the weeks ahead.

Now, maybe that first correct construction didn’t sound quite right to you. As the author, you have a lot of freedom in deciding to use a comma or not, based on your personal preferences for rhythm and flow. The only real sticking point: If we want to use a comma to separate the verb phrases, we need to repeat the subject or else reintroduce it as a pronoun, making both clauses independent. In order to use a comma in this sentence, we’ll reintroduce the subject “the A’s” with the pronoun “they.”

ALSO CORRECT: The A’s face an uphill battle, and they need some big-time pitching and clutch hitting in the weeks ahead.

Let’s take a look at another example:

WRONG: Carl Jenkinson is a very versatile defender, but has not been used by Arsenal as a centre-back.

This presentation is incorrect because it splits the compound predicate with a comma without reintroducing the subject. One possible fix is simply to remove the erroneous comma.

CORRECT: Carl Jenkinson is a very versatile defender but has not been used by Arsenal as a centre-back.

Another possible fix entails retaining the comma but reintroducing “Carl Jenkinson” so that each verb phrase is paired with its own subject. “Carl Jenkinson” is paired with “is a very versatile defender” and “he” is paired with “has not been used by Arsenal as a centre-back.”

ALSO CORRECT: Carl Jenkinson is a very versatile defender, but he has not been used by Arsenal as a centre-back.

More on compound predicates from

Hyphens by the (Style)Book

When we discussed hyphens last week, we noted that some usages are open to interpretation. That said, if you’re looking for a firm ruling on whether to hyphenate a certain word, the best place to turn is our Stylebook. The Sports Usage Dictionary section is arranged alphabetically, and the whole database is conveniently searchable (using ctrl+F on a PC or command+F on a Mac).

Here you’ll find the nouns “front-runner” and “route-runner” are hyphenated while the noun “baserunner” is not. You’ll also see that that writers may use “center back,” “center half” and “center forward” in articles about American soccer teams, while world football articles may use the presentations “centre-back,” “centre-half” and “centre-forward.”

And be sure to pay close attention to cases in which words are presented differently depending on the context or part of speech. While “redshirt” is presented as one unhyphenated word whether it’s employed as a noun, adjective or verb, some terms shapeshift based on the role they play in a sentence. Here are some good examples of that:

Adjective and noun: bounce-back (“Dwyane Wade is on the verge of a bounce-back.” Or “Dwyane Wade is on the verge of a bounce-back season.”)
Verb: bounce back (“NC State will look to bounce back after a disappointing road loss to Wake Forest.”

Adjective and noun: knockout (“Tyson landed a knockout punch.” Or “Tyson landed a punch for the knockout.”)
Verb: knock out (“In his prime, Tyson could knock out anyone.”)

Adjective and noun: pinch-hit (“Mueller slammed a pinch-hit double off the wall in the eighth inning.” Or “Mueller slammed a pinch-hit off the wall in the eighth inning.”)
Verb: pinch hit (“Bogaerts may pinch hit for Drew to face a lefty reliever.”)

You’ll see hyphen usage outlined in the Style Standard Clearinghouse section as well. For example, round-related constructions used as compound modifiers (e.g. “first-round pick”) are hyphenated.

As always, be sure to refer to our Stylebook whenever you’re unsure about how to present a term or phrase. This resource is jam-packed with handy rules regarding spelling, hyphenation and capitalization. I’d recommend skimming it every now and then too. We’re always adding new entries, and you never know when a good tip might catch your eye and clear up a lingering uncertainty.

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Gracie Leavitt manages the editor training program at Bleacher Report.

  • backell

    I really appreciate this series. Commas and hyphens are the things I get gigged for the most. It’s been clear and informative.

  • Psi

    That’s interesting, but what really stood out to me is the use of the apostrophe in “A’s”. This may be an actual team name (and if so woe betide the person who decided to indicate a plural noun with that apostrophe) and in which case there’s nothing you can do about that. But if it’s not an actual team name…this really doesn’t sit well with this being a blog entry concerning the correct use of punctuation!