Hyphens in a common phrase

Good morning! This is a great day to take a look at hyphens. Here’s an example, taken from an email message I just received from my niece Laurie:

Robert has been canning bread and butter pickles.

When I first read this sentence, I pictured Laurie’s son Robert attempting to cram a loaf of bread into a canning jar, intending to can the butter pickles later. Then I realized that the absurd picture occurred to me because Laurie omitted a much-needed ingredient from this sentence: two hyphens.

Robert has been canning bread-and-butter pickles.

What a relief! With the hyphens in place, it’s clear that in this sentence, the common term “bread-and-butter” acts as a compound adjective modifying “pickles.”

Tip: When used as a noun, “bread and butter” is not hyphenated:

Singing was her passion, but bookkeeping was her bread and butter.

By the way, in case you’re not familiar with the term “bread and butter,” it means “source of sustenance,” or “livelihood.”


Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio


About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
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