5 More Examples of Extraneous Hyphens

By Mark Nichol

When it comes to hyphens, prose is often in a state of disequilibrium: Sometimes there are too many, and sometimes there are too few, but careful writers learn when the number of hyphens is just right. These sentences demonstrate a surfeit of hyphenation.

1. “It should come as no surprise that the America’s Cup sponsors may be less-than-pleased with the event’s slow start.”
There is no good reason to link the words in the phrase “less than pleased” with hyphens in this sentence. If the phrase were to precede a noun describing who or what is less than pleased, the hyphenation would be correct (“The less-than-pleased sponsors surprised no one with their reaction”). But the phrase follows the referent noun, so no hyphenation is necessary: “It should come as no surprise that the America’s Cup sponsors may be less than pleased with the event’s slow start.”

2. “This café serves sophisticated comfort food, with items like gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches for grown-ups.”
The sentence refers to a cheese sandwich that is grilled, not a sandwich made of grilled cheese, so the hyphen is extraneous: “This café serves sophisticated comfort food, with items like gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches for grown-ups.”

3. “They also held a widely-publicized training recently.”
Although “widely publicized” modifies training, widely also modifies publicized. More importantly, the phrase is not a phrasal adjective. By convention, adverbs ending in -ly are not hyphenated to a verb when the adverb-plus-verb phrase modifies a noun. “They also held a widely publicized training recently.” (However, an adjective ending in -ly is hyphenated in a phrasal adjective, as in “She wore a ghastly-looking mask.”)

4. “She won her first Olympic medal when she was just seventeen-years-old.”
References to age are hyphenated before a noun (“She’s a seventeen-year-old girl”), and they’re hyphenated when a missing subsequent noun is implied (“She’s a seventeen-year-old”). However, the hyphens are omitted when the reference stands on its own as a simple description of age: “She won her first Olympic medal when she was just seventeen years old.”

5. “Snacking can help you keep up with the recommended five-to-nine daily fruit and vegetable servings.”
The hyphens in the phrase “five-to-nine” may appear courtesy of a misunderstanding — perhaps the writer’s confused memory of the purpose of a dash in a number range. The sentence should read, “Snacking can help you keep up with the recommended five to nine daily fruit and vegetable servings.” (Hyphens are valid only when the number range modifies a noun, as in “a five-to-nine-serving diet” or “a nine-to-five job”).

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12 Responses to “5 More Examples of Extraneous Hyphens”

  • John Wilcock

    Is “a training” really acceptable English usage? To me it sounds like translatorese (the French refer to “une formation” for a training course or session), but seeing it here makes me wonder if it is perhaps US usage too?

  • TrainerDan

    This is more of a question than a comment on Point #5. You say, “Hyphens are valid only when the number range modifies a noun, as in ‘a five-to-nine-serving diet’ or ‘a nine-to-five job.’”

    In the sample sentence (“Snacking can help you keep up with the recommended five-to-nine daily fruit and vegetable servings.”), doesn’t “five-to-nine” modify “servings,” which is a plural noun? I would submit that “five-to-nine” SHOULD be hyphenated for that reason. Furthermore, the whole sentence seems a little awkward. What about revising it to read, ““Snacking can help you keep up with the recommended daily servings of five-to-nine fruits and vegetables.” In this case, “five-to-nine” would still be hyphenated, because it modifies the two nouns, “fruits and vegetables.” Am I correct on this? I’d love to get your feedback!

  • Mike W.

    Did you mean the hyphen was extraneous in number 2? “The sentence refers to a cheese sandwich that is grilled, not a sandwich made of grilled cheese, so the ** comma ** is extraneous:”

    I read this site daily and love it. Thanks.

  • Craig Beard

    In your explanation of example 2, you write, “The sentence refers to a cheese sandwich that is grilled, not a sandwich made of grilled cheese, so the comma is extraneous” The last clause should be “so the hyphen is extraneous.”

  • Mark Nichol

    Mike and Craig:

    The error has been corrected. Thanks!

  • Mark Nichol

    John:

    Training is often used as a noun, but I would transform it into an adjective followed by session or another appropriate term (and I should have done so).

  • Dale A. Wood

    To Mark: The use of “training” as a noun is largely a BRITISH thing, and not an American one. Also, the British widely use “train” or “training” when they ought to state “education”. Americans, Canadians, and South Africans definitely do.

    In American and Canadian English, there is a clear distinction – a heirarchy – between training and education. Education is clearly on a higher level: one engages in education to become an engineer, a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, an accountant, a professional manager, an architect, a schoolteacher, a scientific farmer, a chemist, a physicist, a biologist, a veterinarian, a psychologist, etc.

    “Training” is merely for animals, bricklayers, carpenters, factory workers, highway construction workers, plumbers, sailors, soldiers, shipbuilders, steelworkers, technicians, truckdrivers, warehousemen, etc. This is not putting anyone down – this is just the distinction between a professional education and training as a skilled worker.

    These sound positively pecular: “Ike was trained as an industrial engineer” and “Alice was trained as an architect”. NO, those are fields where one studies for an education at a university or an institute of technology: e.g. the Royal Institute of Techology in Melbourne, Australia, or the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia.

    One of the primary subdivisions of the U.S. Air Force (and some other air forces) is the Air Training Command. That’s not looking down on anyone because the A.T.C. trains pilots, navigators, air traffic controllers, Air Policemen, missilemen, nurses, physician’s assistants, dental assistants, electronics technicians, and more different kinds of technicians than can easily be listed. The major navies and marine corps of the world have similar training commands.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I disagree with the author, and I say that “widely-publicized” is absolutely correct. In general, the adverb “widely” is “widely-hyphenated” onto many words. “Widely” might be an exception to the rule, but so is the adverb “well”.
    Here are some examples for you:
    widely-scorned, widely-praised, widely-planted, widely-grown, widely-held (a widely-held stock), widely-traded, widely-sold, widely-made, widely-manufactured, widely-printed, widely-translated, widely-used.

    Corn** is a widely-planted crop on several continents.
    **By this I mean what the British and some others call “Indian corn” or “maize”. It is “corn” in North America and it is widely-eaten here, and it is widely-brewed into whiskey, too.

    well-bred, well-earned, well-fed, well-grown, well-known, well-led, well-made, well-prepared, well-raised, well-said, well-spoken, well-taken, well-taught, well-thought-out, well-used, well-worn.

    The word “well” can also be replaced by “poorly”. Hence, you cannot argue that “well” is an adjective because “poorly” is definitely an adverb here.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Mr. Nichol, I have had people argue with me that nouns can be used as adjectives.
    I told them, “No, that is absolutely impossible. Nouns and adjective are two different sorts of things.” Furthermore, I told them that there is a two-step process involved:
    1. Transform the noun into an adjective.
    2. Use the adjective as an adjective.
    This is true even when Step One is a trivial one. For many people, this did not make sense.

    You have agreed with me when you stated “I would transform [the word] into an adjective.” Yes, that transformation is a trivial one, because it changed “training” into “training”, but it was necessary, anyway. For examples of your usage, try these:
    “An aviation mechanic’s training course.”
    “A physician’s assistant’s training school.”
    “A training course for alpine rescue dogs in Switzerland.”

    We might also argue that since “training” is a present participle, it can be used as either a verb, an adjective, or a noun – from the very beginning, so no transformations are necessary.

    I also think that everyone should study linear transformations. I studied those in high school and in college, and nonlinear transformations in college.
    D.A.W.

  • John Wilcock

    Training as an *uncountable* noun is fine by me in British English, what surprised me was the usage as a *countable* noun.

    Let me rephrase my question – is using “a training” meaning “a training session/course” acceptable use anywhere? To me it is definitely not OK in British English, though commonly seen in non-native use.

  • Phil Radler

    Mr. Nichol correctly omits the hyphen in “widely publicized.” That follows a convention recognized by the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual, the style manual accompanying Webster’s Unabridged (online), and the Chicago Manual of Style, section 7.82, which says “Compounds formed by an adverb ending in ly plus an adjective or participle (such as largely irrelevant or smartly dressed) are not hyphenated either before or after a noun, since ambiguity is virtually impossible. (The ly ending with adverbs signals to the reader that the next word will be another modifier, not a noun.)

  • Mark Nichol

    TrainerDan:

    “Five to nine” is not a phrasal adjectival — it doesn’t modify “servings,” answering the question “what kind of servings?”; it merely specifies the number of servings.

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