Today’s grammar tip: Open and closed compounds.

Let’s talk about verbs versus adjectives versus nouns. But not just any verbs, adjectives, and nouns. We’re focusing on compounds using prepositions. For example, did you know that if you work out regularly, you likely have fewer follow-ups with your doctor? But if you drop a weight on your toe during your workout, you might need to follow up after all.

Did you catch all those? English is bonkers.

A rule of thumb that usually works for me is that verbs are probably going to be two words (or “open”) if you need to be able to conjugate the first word. In the example above, we say “work out” and “follow up” because we need to be able to say things like “she works out” and “they followed up.” You wouldn’t say “she worksout.” Nouns and adjectives, on the other hand, are very often closed up or hyphenated, which helps you know what’s what or what’s describing what. (When in doubt, look it up in a reputable source. Merriam-Webster is Crowley Webb’s preferred dictionary.)

The following examples should help illustrate the general rule.

Adjective or Noun Verb
The dressed-up children hated their matching costumes. Of course we dressed up for the lavish dog wedding.
It shouldn’t be this hard to remember my login. I’ve been trying to log in but the system is down
Ironed-on decals were my jam in sixth grade. My grandma ironed on the patch to cover the hole in my jeans.
Startups are high risk, high reward. Help, Joe Fell! My computer won’t start up!
This is a setup! No one will help me set up this kissing booth.

I hope this breakdown is useful and it didn’t cause you to break down in hysterics.