5 Cases of Unnecessary Hyphenation

By Mark Nichol

In each of the following sentences, one or more hyphens are extraneous. A discussion and revision follows each example.

1. Data is accurate and often delivered in real-time.

“Real time” is a compound noun, and such nouns are almost invariably open or closed; hyphenated exceptions such as mind-set are rare. If a compound noun does not appear in the dictionary in closed form (or hyphenated), treat it as an open compound: “Data is accurate and often delivered in real time.” (However, do hyphenate such a compound that functions as a phrasal adjective before a noun, as in “This tool provides valuable real-time insight into the process.” Exceptions include standing open compound nouns that are listed in the dictionary, such as “income tax”: “This rule does not apply to income tax returns.”)

2. As companies become increasingly informa­tion-driven, information technology plays a pivotal role in this transformation.

When a phrasal adjective follows the noun it modifies, do not hyphenate it: “As companies become increasingly informa­tion driven, information technology plays a pivotal role in this transformation.” (However, as alluded to in the previous discussion, hyphenate a phrasal adjective when it precedes a noun, as in “information-driven companies.”)

3. Companies need to get up-to-speed quickly on their regulatory requirements.

The words in “up to speed” do not collectively modify anything, so hyphens are not required: “Companies need to get up to speed quickly on their regulatory requirements.”

4. Protocols with minimal-to-no tolerance for mistakes should clearly articulate what constitutes a mistake, and how to avoid making it.

This sentence includes an unnecessarily hyphenated phrase that is incorrect for the same reason that the one in the previous example is. However, because a noun follows the phrase “minimal to no,” the phrase may be misidentified as a phrasal adjective. But minimal and no are distinct adjectives that do not combine with to to create a single modifier: “Protocols with minimal to no tolerance for mistakes should clearly articulate what constitutes a mistake, and how to avoid making it.”

5. Many residents were stunned by the apparently racially-inspired crime.

Adverbial phrases in which the adverb ends in -ly, not to be confused with phrasal adjectives, are not hyphenated: “Many residents were stunned by the apparently racially inspired crime.”

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4 Responses to “5 Cases of Unnecessary Hyphenation”

  • Dale A. Wood

    As another new production of bureaucratese and slopping thinking, I have seen this in the description of some TV talk show: “issue-driven conversions”. Aren’t all conversations driven by issues, even going down to trivial issues?
    I think that someone wrote down “issue-driven conversions” just to sound like a chromedome. I actually like “chrome-dome”, and “chromedome” even better. “Brasshat” comes next, along with “stuffed-shirt”.

    I also do not see anything wrong with “minimal-to-no-tolerance”. Just hyphenate them ALL together.
    Here is a translation from German to English for you: “der Zeitgeist” = “the spirit-of-the-times”. I have a lot of respect for just agglomerating words tighter like “das Farbfernsehgerat” = “the color television set”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The best uses for a hyphenated phrase that is mentioned in the article are seen in “real-time information processing”, “real-time digital control systems”, and “real-time telecommunications networks”.
    As an electrical engineer, I do not see much use for the theft of technical vocabulary that was developed by electrical engineers, computer scientists, and technologists – for the putting of that vocabulary to use in nontechnical and nonelectrical contexts. This is an area in which you can find out that water and kerosene do not mix.
    ————————————————————————–
    I think that if you do not understand what “real-time information processing systems are, then you should not use “real time” or “real-time” for anything.
    In a contrast/comparison there is a time and a place for the phrases “born-again” and “deep-dip-baptism”.
    I came from Southern roots, and in the South, people make up jokes about “deep-dip-baptism”, especially when Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and Catholics get involved in conversations together.

  • Agua Caliente

    I have no big bones to pick about any of the edits, although I’d seriously consider Dale Wood’s take on tolerance. We should not, opines the New York Times, hyphenate zero tolerance, so why the need for such in connection with minimal or no?

    I noticed, though, that only one of the correctables caused even the slightest glitch in my parsing: “racially-inspired,” due to the “ly-” error. I just glided right through the others.
    “Corn-on-the-cob” still irritates me.

  • venqax

    OK, I can’t stand it anymore:

    1. Data ARE accurate and often delivered in real-time.

    Whew… I feel better now.

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