Hyphens Are Chains Linking Phrasal Adjectives
Writers frequently neglect to connect two words that together constitute a single grammatical unit modifying a noun that follows them. This error of omission is even more likely when the phrasal adjective consists of more than two words. The following sentences demonstrate such errors, and a discussion and a revision follow each example.
1. Leaders should be demanding reports that provide relevant stakeholders with near real time information.
The phrase “near real time” consists of three terms that combined to describe a type of information, so the phrase should be linked with hyphens: “Leaders should be demanding reports that provide relevant stakeholders with near-real-time information.”
2. He found himself immersed in an in the trenches position.
The position is in the trenches, so those last three words must be hyphenated when preceding the noun: “He found himself immersed in an in-the-trenches position.”
3. The student had a six-month long affair with his English teacher.
Here, the phrasal adjective is incompletely hyphenated, leaving the reader with the impression that a long affair was of a six-month nature. But long is part of the phrasal adjective: “The student had a six-month-long affair with his English teacher.”
4. Police investigated the much talked about incident.
When much precedes an adjective such as needed and the two words precede a noun, much is connected to the next word with a hyphen. The same rule applies when much intensifies an existing phrasal adjective such as “talked about”: “Police investigated the much-talked-about incident.”
5. Next, the firm undergoes a revenue recognition transition process.
Here, the number of words in the phrasal adjective is the same as the number in each of the preceding examples, but the use of jargon makes the phrasing more dense. The sentence can be corrected to “Next, the firm undergoes a revenue-recognition-transition process,” but in this case, is better to relax the sentence by starting with the noun and progressing from there: “Next, the firm undergoes a process of transitioning revenue recognition.” (Take care, however, that the correct meaning of the terminology is preserved in the revision.)