Hyphenated compounds

Subject: Hyphenated compounds
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Sun, 29 Sep 1996 13:56:52 -0500

There have been contrasting opinions on whether or not to
hyphenate a compound word that follows a phrase (here, "X
was company-owned and -operated"). We're agreed that
compounds that come before a word or phrase, usually
adjectives, are hyphenated, but what about those that come
afterwards?

The reason for hyphenating is the same as for any other
hyphenated compound: to link two separate words that should
function as a single unit. In this sense, the position of
the compound is irrelevant: consider, for example,
well-being, feller-buncher (forestry example!) and CD-ROM.
Over time, such words eventually lose their hyphen and get
set solid (e.g., snow-person became snowperson) if the
words are used often enough. I'd use the hyphens for
clarity, and there are very few cases where I wouldn't.
Here, the only confusion as a result of omitting the hyphen
arises from "yes, it's company-owned, but operated by who,
the company?".

A more open question is whether this particular form of
suspensive hyphenation (i.e., not repeating the word that
comes one or or the other side of the hyphen) is
permissible. Most style guides accept or even recommend "a
1- or 2-year-old X", but many prohibit "company-owned and
-operated". Why? Because it's a less common, thus less
familiar, form, and it creates a momentary hesitation for
readers. Other than that, its a matter of personal taste.

A word about style guides: If you look long enough and hard
enough, you'll find a style guide that supports almost any
position. Style guides aren't physics texts: they're
someone's opinion. Use them as _guides_, not as _final
authorities_. (FWIW, even editors keep several style guides
on hand to provide a range of opinions on most issues.)

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.


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