3 Types of Extended Phrasal Adjectives

By Mark Nichol

Each of the following sentences includes a phrasal adjective (two or more words that modify a noun) consisting of several words, and each requires hyphenation missing from that phrase. Discussion after each example explains the problem, and revisions demonstrate solutions.

1. These remain front and center priorities for organizations.

When a phrase structured as “[blank] and [blank]” and serving to modify a noun precedes the noun, hyphenate the three words: “These remain front-and-center priorities for organizations.” However, no hyphenation is necessary when the phrase follows the noun: “These priorities remain front and center for organizations.”

2. This guide includes a special supplement on the first of its kind regulation requiring certification and screening programs.

The same holds true for any more extensive phrase providing more details about a noun that follows the phrase—hyphenate the phrase into a unified chain: “This guide includes a special supplement on the first-of-its-kind regulation requiring certification and screening programs.” Again, omit hyphens when the phrase follows the noun: “This guide includes a special supplement on the regulation, the first of its kind, requiring certification and screening programs.”

3. It was a wrong place, wrong time situation for me.

When a phrase that represents or alludes to a standing expression precedes a noun, as in the abridgment of the sentiment “[One] was in the wrong place at the wrong time” in the example above, string the phrase together with hyphens, deleting any punctuation internal to the phrase: “It was a wrong-place-wrong-time situation for me.” Once again, omit hyphens (and retain applicable punctuation) when the phrase follows the noun: “The situation was a case of wrong place, wrong time for me.”

Enclosing the phrase in quotation marks is an alternative (“It was a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ situation for me”), but this strategy should be reserved for phrasal adjectives of unwieldy length that, because they are part of a direct quote, cannot be relocated after the noun in a revised sentence.


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