Hyphens in compound adjective used as predicate

Discussion in 'English Only' started by silver lining, Jan 7, 2013.

  1. silver lining Junior Member

    French - Canada
    Hi everyone!

    I know that when a compound is used as an attributive adjective before a noun, it needs to be hyphenated.

    The professor is a well-dressed man.
    We hold this time-honored tradition dear.
    The world-class athlete won the gold medal.

    Generally speaking, when a compound is used predicatively (after the verb), the compound isn't hyphenated.

    The professor is well dressed.

    Does this also apply to permanent compounds that are hyphenated in the dictionary? Merriam-Webster’s hyphenates both “time-honored” and “world-class” and lists them as adjectives. Does this mean that regardless of the manner in which they are used (attributively or predicatively), compound adjectives such as “time-honored” and “world-class” should always be hyphenated?

    This tradition is time-honored.
    This tradition is time honored.

    The athlete is world-class.

    The athlete is world class.

    I’ve found divergent opinions on the matter, and I would love to settle this once and for all! For instance, the <<Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)>> states that “when [compound modifiers] follow the noun they modify, hyphenation is usually unnecessary, even for adjectival compounds that are hyphenated in Webster’s (such as well-read or ill-humored).” However, the Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary offers this as an example of the use of the adjective “time-consuming”: “Can we try to make this less time-consuming?”

    Your help is, as usual, greatly appreciated! :)
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 8, 2013
  2. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Hello, silver lining. In general, I think the advice you found in CMOS is sound. Regarding MW's example using "less time-consuming", MW probably kept the hyphen so that readers wouldn't modify "time" with "less" and forget to modify "consuming" with "less time".

    As you have seen, the advice regarding hyphenation can vary from one source to another. As long as there is no danger of misreading or misunderstanding some particular compound, I think it makes sense to regard the hyphens as unnecessary when that compound is used predicatively.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 8, 2013
  3. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    Well you won't. There aren't any right answers, there is just conventions used by this publisher or that publisher, and the only one that is fairly well established is the difference between attributive and predicative where the first word is an adverb like 'well'.

    My personal preference is to decide when something is an adjective, and always to hyphenate it if it is. This includes adjective + noun compounds such as 'crystal-clear', 'rock-solid' . . . and even as I'm typing those I'm wondering whether I would really hyphenate them predicatively. It also includes noun + past participle compounds such as 'time-honoured', 'battle-scarred', 'world-renowned'.

    The test for me is if the words can be regarded as a free syntactic combination in that place:

    This essay is well written.
    This essay is written well.
    This essay is carefully written.
    This essay is written in green biro. [etc.]

    'Well' can freely go in that position as a syntactic modifier of 'written', just as 'in green biro' can modify it. So 'well written' can be regarded as two words in their normal independent functions. But 'time-honoured' and 'crystal-clear' can't be; rather we'd say it is honoured by time, using normal syntax. So the two words have fused into a compound. This is my personal criterion for my choices, but there just are many writers and publishers out there with their own opinions and house styles.
  4. Beryl from Northallerton Moderator

    British English
    Forgive me, but I don't know what CMOS stands for. That aside, the question of hyphenation is indeed vexed, and it seems unlikely that you will achieve ultimate satisfaction here.
    I'd recommend that you choose one and remain consistent to it, whilst keeping an eye open to linguistic trends as they develop. There's no absolute guide to eternal style, and as the word might indicate, style is fashionable, ie. changeable. (Cross-posted)
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 8, 2013
  5. silver lining Junior Member

    French - Canada
    Thank you all for your swift replies. As for the CMOS, Beryl from Northallerton, please forgive me: it should have read CMOS (Chicago Manual of Style). I have since corrected it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! :)

    For those of you who choose to hyphenate predicate compounds, would you establish a difference between occasional compounds and permanent compounds (found in reliable dictionaries) when determining whether a predicate compound should be hyphenated? For example, « time-honored » is found in the Merriam Webster’s whereas « time-limited » isn’t; would that have any bearing whatsoever on determining how to spell the predicate?

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 8, 2013
  6. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    That idea makes some sense, silver lining, but I'd almost always use a hyphen when modifying an adjective with a noun: The practice is time-honored. The project is time-limited. That said, I hate "time-limited" and would likely search for another way to express the idea. :)

    Edit: Changed "noun" to "adjective". Changed "another" to "with a noun".
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2013
  7. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    I share that view, and so would apply it more broadly than the "occasional vs. permanent" strategy. This isn't the first time I've disagreed with Chicago, but I do so reluctantly.

    I'd say you need a comma in:

    The main concerns are cost-related.

    He was arrested for offences that are drug-related.

    The property is county-owned.

    These include only those institutions that are degree-granting.

    The supply trains were animal-drawn.

    >>As long as there is no danger of misreading or misunderstanding … regard the hyphens as unnecessary when that compound is used predicatively.

    I find this one interesting in that context:

    The standards were agreed-upon.
  8. silver lining Junior Member

    French - Canada
    Thank you, owlman5 and Gramman, for shedding some light on this complex and seemingly insoluble issue. You say that you’d use a hyphen when modifying an adjective with a noun; what becomes of compounds made up of other parts of speech, e.g., noun+noun (world-class), participle+noun (cutting-edge), adverb+participle/adjective (much-needed)? Does your stance change? If your decision to hyphenate or not is indeed predicated upon grammatical composition, how would you ensure consistency within a given text if different types of compounds presented themselves? Would you stick to one method (and either hyphenate or not hyphenate them all), or would you treat each compound separately?

    Gramman, what do you mean by the comment "I find this one interesting in that context" when introducing the example "The standards were agreed-upon"?

    Thank you very much for your patience and your input!
  9. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    I wouldn't go beyond the general rule of "When a compound is used predicatively (after the verb), the compound doesn't need to be hyphenated". The definition "use if found in XYZ dictionary" is unhelpful - I might not own a copy! But for me the only real criteria are "will my meaning be immediately understandable by the reader?" and if not, "what device (including punctuation) can I use to make it so?"

    So, if the hyphen can be omitted all well and good. But if that leads to the slightest doubt on the part of the reader, give the guy a helping hand, insert the hyphen.
  10. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    >>what do you mean …"I find this one interesting in that context"?

    I mean it could be extended to: The standards were agreed upon by all participants.

    Perhaps this one stands out because the past participle comes first.

    Don't get the idea that I have much of a clue here — I'm interested, not knowledgeable.

    How does this excerpt from Wikipedia's English compounds page strike you:

    Back in the day, when I used to get copyediting work, I was known by some as "The Hyphen King." My tendency was to use one unless it created a potential problem to do so. I'm hoping that approach is more or less consistent with Mr. Bradford's "use one if it helps" approach.
  11. JuanEscritor

    JuanEscritor Senior Member

    English - AE
    I hyphenate all single adjectives unless adhering to some other standard. Even long ones get hyphens:

    The people in the won't-listen-to-reason crowd were difficult to convince.
  12. silver lining Junior Member

    French - Canada
    Thanks for the link, gramman. I’m not sure I find the information wholly satisfactory, though, as the rules still seem to exclusively address cases where the compound modifiers precede the noun (it seems to me that by saying that "[a]n adjective preceding a noun to which -d or -ed has been added as a past-participle construction, used before a noun" should be hyphenated, this statement implies that when used after the noun, the opposite, i.e., no hyphenation, should apply).

    I did, however, stumble upon this chapter of The Canadian Style (Hyphenation: Compounding and Word Division) that provides some insight:

    (It also covers adverb-plus-participle compounds extensively, which follow their own set of convoluted rules.) When it comes to the two types of compounds highlighted in the quote, this style guide's stance of advocating hyphenation in all instances where they are adjectival, regardless of position, puts it at odds with the Chicago Manual of Style. It doesn’t seem to concern itself with the distinction between permanent and occasional compounds, however, which is the query that led to my initial post. As many of you have pointed out already, there doesn't appear to be one universal way to proceed backed by all authoritative style guides: I guess clarity, consistency and personal preference trump strict adherence to one single "rule".

    I can’t thank you all enough for your help and advice! You’ve helped me sort out an issue that’s been bugging me for quite some time!
  13. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    >>convoluted rules

    You may have noticed a forum member's signature citing the Oxford University Press style manual: "If you take hyphens seriously, you will surely go mad." Her absence from this thread could be a sign of her resolve to remain sane.

    And it may be that the mixed-up, round-about, mind-bending nature of what's acceptable and what's a no-no in the standards for English compound word hyphenation allows writers to view them as "made to be broken." As they say, to rule the waves, you sometimes need to waive the rules.

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