"well known" vs. "well-known"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by udoh, Jul 1, 2010.

  1. udoh Member

    German - Germany
    In both, Oxford ALD and Cambridge ALD I find the adjective "well known". In some phrases it is written as well-known and in others as "well known". When does one write it with hyphen and when without?
  2. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    A typical use of the hyphenated version is "well-known person". It is also written as "well known person".

    On the other hand I cannot remember seeing a hyphen being used used in a sentence such as "It is well known that drink-driving is dangerous."

    Google shows lots of examples of both orthographies, correct or not.


    In language one can ask "What is correct?" and "When does incorrect become correct?"


    If 1 + 1 are 2 is correct then 1 + 1 are 10 is incorrect, but if
    1 + 1 are 10 is correct then 1 + 1 are 2 is incorrect. :warning:

    But that is Maths.
  3. udoh Member

    German - Germany
    My hope was that there is an (easy) rule like to one in the deleted post of jpyvr.
  4. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    But GF's first part of the answer does indicate the simple rule: when used as an adjective well-known is hyphenated, but when used as an adverb + verb it is not hyphenated.
    The maths allusion was just there to confuse you.
  5. udoh Member

    German - Germany
    Spira, thanks for your remark. Can you provide a reference for this rule?

    I read somewhere that the composed adjevtives are hyphened whenever there might be ambigity otherwise. I guess, in the case "well-known person" one might misunderstand "well known persons" as as person that is well and is known. In the case of the usage as adverb, I think such an ambigity is not possible.

    But does the rule mentioned by Spira hold in general, not only for well-known?

    Concerning the maths in GF's post, the statements are both wrong in general. In the field with 2 elements (yes, there is such a thing!) 1+1=2=10 is true.
  6. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    It's just a stylistic choice, except when there might be ambiguity or some kind of perceptual distortion. E.g. more important reasons vs more-important reasons. I'm sure you'll continue to see it both ways for the rest of your life.

    However, the general rule I follow for compound adjectives is to hyphenate them (e.g. paint-coated face, tan-bearing skin, 50-year old man), UNLESS:

    1. The first part of the compound adjective ends in -ly (e.g. lightly seasoned meat, fully operational system), OR

    2. The first word is 'well' (e.g. well heated room, well cooked fish, well hung man).
    (I'm pretty sure I developed this set of rules from Fowler's Modern English Usage)

    So, to answer your first question, I would say 'well known' (e.g. a well known person, Professor Gould is well known in academic circles).

    When using 'well' as an adverb, such as in "it is well known that drink-driving is dangerous", it would be unhyphenated.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyphen has an interesting recap.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2010
  7. sandrah New Member

    English-United States
    If it is an adjective phrase preceding a noun, hyphenate it. If it does not precede the noun, do not hyphenate it.
    E.g., That is a well-known song. That song is well known.
  8. e42mercury Senior Member

    Mendoza, Argentina
    English, USA

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