GrammarPhile Blog

More Compound Adjectives

Posted by Julie DeSilva   Dec 6, 2011 5:30:00 PM

C + AWe began last week's post with "No aspect of style causes greater difficulty than compound adjectives." Some readers took exception to that statement. Okay, it was over the top, perhaps. But you would just not believe the debates these things can cause when a group of strong-willed (strong willed?) grammarians get together and haggle over a client's document! Surely we can all agree that mistakes concerning compound adjectives are at least far too commonplace.

Here are two more rules, with examples, covering some words you may have wondered about:

A number of adjective-noun combinations (such as real estate or social security) and noun-noun combinations (such as life insurance or money market) are actually well-established compound nouns serving as adjectives. Unlike short-term, low-risk, red-carpet, and part-time, these expressions refer to well-known concepts or institutions. Because they are easily grasped as a unit, they do not require a hyphen.

  • accounts payable records
  • branch office reports
  • income tax return
  • life insurance policy
  • public relations adviser
  • word processing center
  • nuclear energy plant
  • social security tax
  • exception: a mail-order business

When a compound adjective consists of a noun plus an adjective, hyphenate this combination whether it appears before or after the noun.

  • top-heavy
  • tone-deaf
  • paper-thin
  • tax-exempt
  • color-blind
  • scot-free
  • Your suggestion is ingenious but not cost-effective.
  • I want a computer that is Windows-compatible.

Some words commonly thought to be hyphenated are in fact not. For example, harebrained, dodgeball, wickerwork, and brainchild are each one word.

Topics: hyphenation, adjectives

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