the hyphen story


elecmagDo you know how a hyphen is used, gramatically, that is? Sorry, let me re-phrase. Do you know what confusion, even heartbreak, can not knowing the proper usage of the innocuous-looking hyphen cause?  (look, I just used one correctly here, in the previous sentence ;))

I have a little incident to share on this. Here:

Remember there was this theory in electromagnetism that we studied during younger days that when a conductor carrying current is placed in a magnetic field, it experiences a force (bla bla….this force is a function of the strength of the magnetic field and the magnitude of the current (F = il* B ..that’s a vector equation…bla bla….I’m not getting any further into the physics of it)

In an exam (that was way back, in 9th standard), in answer to a question, I wrote “…..when a current carrying conductor is placed in a mag field….”. While the answer was correct, my physics teacher (a pale looking, surely very finicky and perhaps very intelligent, Mrs. Pitambar) underscored in red “….. when a current carrying conductor is placed ….” and on my asking what was wrong with it, said “How can current carry a conductor?? It should be “…when a conductor carrying current is placed…”

I lost a then-seemingly-crucial 1 mark, and slipped down a rank in the rapidly-updated class rankings (because of that decisive single point) Indeed, I got the sense of what she had to say, so I could not convince her in my favour, howevermuch I was sure of having had seen such usage. The confusion got soon buried in the chaos of my youthful routine, but not forever. When many years later I read about the grammatical purpose of the hyphen, I remembered the incident immediately and understood what I (and she!) should’ve known. It is that when two entirely unrelated words are required to be used together, they are interconnected by a hyphen, lest the construction should look awkward, as it did to Mrs. Pitambar then.

So, she was indeed correct in saying that ‘a current carrying conductor’ is wrong usage. (but she did not know why :)) It actually should’ve been ‘a current-carrying conductor’ (notice the hyphen). Ofcourse, ‘a conductor carrying current’ is fine too.

PS: Even if you found the story pretty boring, I hope the grammar lesson was useful.

PS2: If you knew the grammar too, I’m sorry. 

PS3: Hey, what if you knew the grammar, but found the story interesting 🙂 *ahem* ….Well that is the case in which both of us would pass off as non-idiots.. 😀



4 Responses to “the hyphen story”

  1. charlottemaryphoto Says:

    Thanks for the comment!
    This is very interesting. I’ve always had a strange interest in sentence making 🙂

  2. charlottemaryphoto Says:

    Thanks for the tip 🙂 And I’ll be sure to tell her!

  3. satyen Says:

    too good tiwari..just fundoo!!

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