Ed in Albany, New York, had a question about a recent column in which I mentioned people "who just won't stop using the word 'over' wrong."
Here's Ed: "Isn't the last word of that sentence intended as an adverb and shouldn't it then be 'wrongly'? Just a thought!"
"One cannot use anything 'wrong,' only 'wrongly,' " a reader named Mario instructed me back in 2005. "In your incorrect use of 'wrong,' there is no doubt that you are wrong. I therefor(sic) challenge you to admit your mistake in a follow-up article for all to read. I am not holding my breath."
Just days later, another reader had similar thoughts: " 'Wrong' can be used as a noun or an adjective, but never an adverb. ... I look forward to reading your 'mea culpa' in your next article."
Here's how I responded to those other two in a 2005 column: "Please open your dictionaries to the word 'wrong.' Please see that, following the first cluster of definitions under 'adj.,' adjective, comes the abbreviation 'adv.,' adverb. 'Wrong' is an adverb. And you are both wrong."
We're taught that adverbs are like adjectives except they end in ly and instead of describing nouns they describe verbs. That horse is beautiful. That horse runs beautifully.
That's true often, but not always. Sometimes words without "ly" endings are adverbs. (She sings well.) Sometimes words with "ly" endings are adjectives. (She is lovely.) Sometimes words with "ly" endings are nouns. (They are a family.) Some words do double duty as both adjectives and adverbs. (That car is fast. That car goes fast.)
I also got a question this week about hyphenation. Hyphens create "compound modifiers," words that work together to modify another word. (A flesh-eating virus. Lead-based paint.)
But what do you do when the compound is three words and two of them already are sort of a team? That is, if you want to say that a recipe was inspired by a greasy spoon, would you write "a greasy spoon-inspired recipe" or "a greasy-spoon-inspired recipe"? To say that your patio is shaded by an olive tree, would you write "an olive tree-shaded patio" or "an olive-tree-shaded patio"?
Those two examples were offered by a reader named Al.
Hyphenation rules aren't iron-clad, but if you want my two cents, both of Al's examples should have not just one hyphen but two. An olive tree-shaded patio leaves open the possibility of a patio painted an olive color and shaded by an oak tree. The extra hyphen, in this example at least, shows at a glance that all three words are working together to do one job.