Line of confusion: -ly words and hyphens

Among the many confused punctuation rules is whether or not to use a hyphen with a word ending in ly.

The basic rule is that adverbs ending in ly are not hyphenated. So, you would write finely tuned guitar not finely-tuned guitar, because finely is an adverb modifying how the guitar is tuned.

Generally, words ending in ly are adverbs, so this rule is almost universal.

The few words ending in ly that are not adverbs, such as family (which is a noun), require a hyphen, however. So, you would write family-owned business not family owned business.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.