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”).