Hyphenating More + Adjective

By Maeve Maddox

A reader questions the standard advice that the adverb more should not be linked to an adjective by a hyphen:

I find that most style guides do not favor hyphenating phrases starting with “more” (e.g., more honest). I find the following phrase in the manuscript that I am currently editing: “more explicit predictions.” This could mean predictions that are more explicit or more predictions that are explicit. From the context, I believe the author means the former. For clarity, shouldn’t this be hyphenated as “more-explicit predictions”?

Most style guides do advise against linking more to an adjective with a hyphen, but most also recognize that sometimes a hyphen may be necessary for clarity.

For example, The Chicago Manual of Style prefers “a spare hyphenation style.” The guide provides numerous examples, but recognizes that writers will encounter punctuation puzzles for which they can find no examples or analogies. In that case, CMOS gives this common sense advice:

if no suitable example or analogy can be found either in this section [7.85] or in the dictionary, hyphenate only if doing so will aid readability.

Adding a hyphen is a quick solution, but not the only one. Another option is to rewrite the sentence with a qualifying clause:

There is a need for predictions that are more explicit.

The reader who posed the question rejects the clause solution as “rather stilted.” It does require more words, but calling it stilted is a matter of opinion. I see it as a practical solution.

Another way to avoid ambiguity with more is to use a different word. Here are some synonyms for more:

additional
further
added
extra
increased
new
other
supplementary

These words may or may not be appropriate substitutes for more in a specific context. Sometimes the only way to avoid ambiguity is to take the time to rethink the sentence.

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2 Responses to “Hyphenating More + Adjective”

  • venqax

    “[A] spare hyphenation style” could mean a hyphenation style that is minimal or it could mean an extra hyphenation policy for use if your first one goes flat. But writing “a spare-hyphenation” policy seems to imply the first. How much discretion do we have, exactly, with those hyphen-ations?

  • thebluebird11

    I vote to recast the sentence, as Maeve suggested, and I don’t see how the final construction is stilted. Not to be rude, insulting or presumptuous, but maybe the person who said it was stilted doesn’t know the meaning of the word. The hyphens in the example in this post and in the example given by venqax can be eliminated easily with good clarification of author intent by simple reordering of the words. That is a luxury one has in writing that one may not have when speaking extemporaneously.

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