Should I hyphenate "long deferred" in this sentence?

BobbieCB

Member
English - USA Midwest & Southern
Should this sentence hyphenate the words, "long deferred" ?

My mind wandered to the long-deferred task of sifting through the boxes in the cellar.

I've read multiple web sources on hyphenation and many argue that as a compound adjective, hyphenated "long-deferred" is correct.

However, other sources recommend leaving out the hyphen if the sentence is intelligible without them. Thus they suggest this form as correct and more modern:

My mind wandered to the long deferred task of sifting through the boxes in the cellar.

Which is most appropriate for written American English as it is currrently used?

(I should add I've looked up "long-deferred" in online dictionaries and have gotten no clear direction from them.)

Thank you for your help.

 
  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    It requires no hyphen. I agree with "However, other sources recommend leaving out the hyphen if the sentence is intelligible without them."
     

    entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I personally hyphenate it, but it's really not important. You're getting no clear guidance from dictionaries and the rest because there is no clear policy on such things.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Given that "long deferred task" might be taken as a deferred task that is long rather than a task that has been deferred for a long time, I would recommend using the hyphen.
     

    BobbieCB

    Member
    English - USA Midwest & Southern
    Thank you all for the feedback. It's a difficult question, isn't it? As entangledbark notes, I'm probably not getting clear guidance on this from web research because it's an area without explicit, invariant rules.

    I've discovered that certain modifiers, like "long-lost" or "hand-carved," always include the dash according to dictionaries and online sources.

    But other modifiers, such as "long departed" or "long deceased," often do not -- at least in modern American usage.

    To me my sample sentence looks best and modern without the dash ("long deferred"), but I worry about Myridon's excellent point, that the meaning could possibly be misinterpreted if the dash is left out. Thanks.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I worry about Myridon's excellent point, that the meaning could possibly be misinterpreted if the dash is left out.
    A deferred task that is long is a "long, deferred task", neither you nor Myridon need worry... ;)
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    A deferred task that is long is a "long, deferred task."
    I nevertheless agree with Myridon. Can we be sure that readers will realize that the comma should be included in that context?

    I wouldn't be concerned about "modernity." Unless I see a benefit from leaving the hyphen out, I will include it. After all, what's the downside?

    cross-posted
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I nevertheless agree with Myridon. Can we be sure that readers will realize that the comma should be included in that context?
    Can we be sure that they would even see Myridon's interpretation? Can we really imagine a reader of a book containing such a sentence "My mind wandered to the long-deferred task of sifting through the boxes in the cellar." being confused? Does it matter if he is? Sifting through books is a long task.

    The first three posts were: "Don't use a hyphen,"; "It doesn't matter if you use a hyphen or not.", and "Do use a hyphen." I think that sums it up - it is optional.
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    I'd use the hyphen, too. What hyphens are supposed to do is provide a tiny bit of clarity in a sometimes confusing world. A hyphen in long-deferred task would do just that, so why not use it one?
     

    gramman

    Senior Member
    Can we be sure that they would even see Myridon's interpretation?
    I figure the point is that we can't be sure they won't.

    >>Sifting through books is a long task.

    Thay may be, but aren't we looking to provide more general advice? What if the task involved is typically completed fairly quickly?

    >>It is optional.

    It seems to me there is in fact agreement on that. Myridon "recommends" using a hyphen, as do I and some others.
     
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