A reader wonders about the plural for a marketing term:
Recently the CEO of a company wrote an email to me saying that his software would automatically generate “call-to-actions.” I am pretty sure he should have written “calls-to-action.” Am I right?
The reader is correct. When pluralizing a compound word that contains more than one noun, the general rule is to make the principal noun plural. In this case, call is the principal noun. The plural is “calls to action.”
The term “call to action” refers to the part of an advertisement that prompts a consumer to act. In texts intended for readers in the marketing industry, the term is usually written CTA. “Buy now!” and “Order now!” are typical CTAs.
As “call to action” does not have an entry in the OED, Merriam-Webster Unabridged, Collins, or the AP Stylebook, I can’t cite one of my usual authorities as to whether the noun form should be hyphenated. My instinct is that it should not.
The view expressed in The AP Stylebook reflects the common attitude among publishers: “The fewer hyphens the better; use them only when not using them causes confusion.”
A Web search isn’t much help in discovering which form–hyphenated or non-hyphenated–is more common with “call to action.” I did find a business blog that plumps for the hyphens:
call-to-action, calls-to-action, CTA, CTAs: Always hyphenate when used as a noun (as in “call-to-action” or “calls-to-action”) or an adjective (as in “call-to-action button” or “call-to-action manager”). Whenever possible, try to use CTA or CTAs instead of the hyphenated version (it’s a mouthful!).
However, the unhyphenated phrase seems to be the preferred choice in reputable British, Australian, American, and Canadian publications and on government sites.
“Call for action” can be understood without hyphens as a noun, but it does require them when the phrase is used as a modifier. Here are examples of both noun and adjective use:
Every website should have a call to action, a response you want users to complete.
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With or without hyphens, add the -s to call to make the phrase plural.