More Hyphenation of Phrasal Adjectives

By Mark Nichol

Three types of phrasal adjectives are treated according to the same basic rules, as shown in the following (erroneous) examples, which are discussed and revised below each sentence.

First, a definition: A phrasal adjective is a phrase consisting of two or more words that, when combined, constitute a single expression of modification of a noun. Phrasal adjectives are usually hyphenated when they precede a noun but left open when they follow one.

1. Embracing change is the only viable alternative to becoming a victim of the never ending cycle and escalating speed of innovation.

The words never and ending team up to serve as a synonym for endless. Because they precede cycle, they are hyphenated to communicate their interrelationship as modifying elements: “Embracing change is the only viable alternative to becoming a victim of the never-ending cycle and escalating speed of innovation.”

2. The researchers highlighted the follow the herd mentality the students exhibited.

A phrasal adjective can also consist of more than two words, as in this verb-article-noun idiom, which modifies mentality: “The researchers highlighted the follow-the-herd mentality the students exhibited.”

3. For New York Stock Exchange-listed organizations, the audit committee charter must include the committee’s duties and responsibilities.

When a proper noun consisting of more than one word is linked with another word to form a phrasal adjective, an en dash is employed as a “superhyphen” to indicate that despite the number of words in the phrasal adjective, it consists of only two elements—the proper noun and the adjective listed: “For New York Stock Exchange–listed organizations, the audit committee charter must include the committee’s duties and responsibilities.”

The original treatment mistakenly implies that the phrasal adjective is Exchange-listed, and that the three preceding words are unrelated, and the alternative “For New-York-Stock-Exchange-listed” is unwieldy and suggests that the elements of the proper noun are discrete. However, a better solution is to relax the sentence as shown here: “For organizations listed on the New York Stock Exchange, the audit committee charter must include the committee’s duties and responsibilities.”

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4 Responses to “More Hyphenation of Phrasal Adjectives”

  • Dale A. Wood

    This is a very fine article, and maybe a better one than precious ones on the same subject. As an old saying goes, “Live and learn!”

    Now to make a clarification: “Phrasal adjectives are usually hyphenated when they precede a noun but left open when they follow one.” In other words, you mean when the adjectival phrase is a “predicate adjective”, and people need to understand what a predicate adjective is.
    Predicate adjectives are something never to be forgotten, and we do not need to write “Predicate adjectives are something-never-to-be-forgotten,” unlike “Never-to-be-forgotten-rules do exist.”

  • Dale A. Wood

    As a former prof of engineering and mathematics, one of my struggles was to teach my students that “Never-to-be-forgotten-rules do exist.” This was often against the follow-the-herd mentality that the students possessed.

  • Michael Tevlin

    In #3 above, what about “audit committee charter”? Shouldn’t it be: “audit-committee charter”? It’s not a commitee charter that is somehow an audit. It’s a charter of the audit committee.

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Michael Tevlin: I agree completely.
    Also, “the charter of the audit committee” is much better!
    Somehow, someway, teachers, schools, and students have fallen into the trap of “always” using attributive adjectives and adjectival phrases, and people do not learn about prepositional phrases. Nor do they read very much anymore and get used to be prose and poetry of Hemingway, Homer, Asimov, Clarke, and Tennyson.
    Ideas like “In the Heat of the Night” and “Over hill, over dale, we shall hit the dusty trail,” must seem to be mysterious to them, as does:
    “Into the Valley of Death rode the 600. Into the Mouth of Hell rode the 600.” Wow – four prepositional phrases and nothing else.

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