A black-and-white issue?

You would have thought that colours are pretty elementary and there ought to be no mistakes there. But there are still pitfalls, in particular when colours are combined.

Look at the three examples below. They mean completely different things.

  • yellow and green beads
    Some of them are yellow, others are green
  • yellow-and-green beads
    Each individual bead is partly yellow and partly green
  • yellow-green beads
    These are all the same, rather sickly shade of lime

Combinations that turn up regularly are red-and-white, yellow-and-black and (of course) black-and-white.

Prevalence: moderate. The stripey tapes and so forth used for cordoning off danger zones are a particular favourite in technical documents.
Frequency: moderate. The kind of subtle point where non-native authors often tend to be too literal.
Native: no. Not usually. We’re not always too hot on getting our hyphens right, admittedly, but most people are a bit more careful in cases where it can affect the meaning.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

One thought on “A black-and-white issue?

  1. This is the adjectival use, before the noun. Separate words when postfixed, e.g. “Birmingham City play in blue and white” or “All my memories seem to fade to black and white”

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