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THREADWORM and other members of crack grammar squad, please help

(49 Posts)
policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 13:25:41

I've had some guidance from a client that they want me to hyphenate adjectival compounds (working-class residents) but not adverbial compounds (newly built housing).

But I keep coming up against things like goat-trading (a goat-trading business) and capacity-building that seem to me to need to be hyphenated.

Am I right (in the deeply ambiguous sense of 'right' that applies to grammar conundrums), and if so, why?

Iklboo Mon 03-Aug-09 13:30:21

Think goat-trading would definitely need a hyphen, otherwise it looks like a business being run by goats wink

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 13:36:51

grin Yes.

Iklboo Mon 03-Aug-09 13:39:48

Nothing wrong with goats running a business of course <vows not to make puns about being a nanny state and don't kid yourself.

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 13:50:35

I swear to God that I was just here for a passing second whilst researching washing-machine purchase. I am not lurking permanently just waiting for someone to name me in a thread title and ask my opinion about grammar.

My rule of thumb is to hyphenate words which jointly qualify the following noun except in the case of adverbial compounds where the 'ly' ending of the adverb makes it plain that the adverb itself qualifies the term immediately following and that they therefore jointly qualify the noun.

In other words '-ly' has the effect of indicating a word partnership to the reader so that the hyphen doesn't need to be enlisted to make that partnership plain.

Therefore I certainly wouldn't hyphenate 'newly built housing' but I would hyphenate all the other terms you mention.

I don't really understand why your client's rule would mean that 'goat-trading business' etc wouldn't be hyphenated. But then I am thick about formal grammatical rules (which stood me in great stead when I edited a very prickly linguist who had a thing about rules).

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 13:53:19

...a thing about hating rules, that is.

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 14:10:53

<makes mental note not to invest in any of Iklboo's businesses>

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 14:14:08

(Of course, you wouldn't hyphenate 'goat trading' or 'capacity building' except when they were being used as compound adjectives -- i.e. were jointly qualifying a following noun.)

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 14:15:21

Sheesh thready, that is very interesting but of no use to me (unless I go back to them and say 'your rules are crap'. Maybe that is what I should do - I must admit the adjectival/adverbial thing seemed an arbitrary distinction to me).

I bought the cheapest washing machine going (White Knight, I think it is) about five years ago and it's still getting felt-tip pen off in a thoroughly satisfactory manner. Probably a very bad energy rating though.

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 14:17:37

Ah (x-posts) wouldn't you?

'He was engaged in goat trading.'

'The community required help with capacity building.'

No? Maybe I'm just addicted to hyphens (which would explain why the desperate desk editor feels the need to furnish me with rules).

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 14:17:47

Why is it of no use? It seemed to suggest that your client's rule would allow you to hyphenate the compounds you thought were in need of hyphens.

Just don't hyphenate where there is an 'ly' ending. What am I not understanding here?

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 14:18:24

Um blush thanks very much and all that <forgets manners>

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 14:19:49


Absolutely you shouldn't hyphenate 'He was engaged in goat trading.'

But you should hyphenate 'He was engaged in a goat-trading business.'

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 14:20:41

Sorry blush, I'm being rude (or jokey in a way that's not translating well).

I don't think the rules do allow it, do they? 'trading' and 'building' both being verbs - they don't want me to hyphenate what they call 'adverbial compounds'. I thought 'goat-trading' and 'capacity-building' both qualify as adverbial. Maybe not? I'm shite at formal grammar.

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 14:31:46

No, you aren't being rude. We just seem to have a mutual misunderstanding.

My understanding is that your client is excluding from hyphenation adverbial compounds considered as a special subset of adjectival compounds. I.e. as I understand it, adverbial compounds are compound adjectives in which the first term is an adverb which qualifies the second term (so that they both then qualify the following noun jointly).

The essential point is that you don't need a hyphen when another linguistic feature (the ly ending)is making a word partnership evident.


newly built housing
goat-trading business
goat trading

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 14:40:39

'The community required help with capacity building.'

'capacity building' isn't being used as an adjectival compound -- because its terms aren't being used to jointly qualify a noun.

In 'Here is the government's capacity-building initiative'

'capacity' and 'building' are jointly qualifying 'initiative'. So they are an adjectival compound

You need the hyphen because of the few cases where you might otherwise think they are each qualifying the noun independently ... like

'He was a fast talking athlete'

which without the hyphen might mean that he was a fast athlete and one that talked -- but with the hyphen clearly means that he was an athlete who was a smooth talker.

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 14:43:50

Oh I seeeeee. Thank you. That does make sense. So my client isn't an idiot - I am. That's a relief wink

So 'transit-oriented development' is OK to hyphenate, yes?

You can tell by the examples I'm using that this is a pretty fascinating book.

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 20:26:02

Thanks for the washing-machine advice. Have committed self to budget-range Bosch mentioned in Which Best Buys. Hope it lasts longer than the last one I bought.

VulpusinaWilfsuit Mon 03-Aug-09 20:29:59

oooooh <sad alarm>, didja see my thread the other day about hyphenation and compound words?

Worldshattering/world-shattering importance, that was. Some people were very helpful with a 1940s grammar manual.

What exciting lives we lead.

VulpusinaWilfsuit Mon 03-Aug-09 20:30:54


Don't you mean 'washing machine' and 'budget range'?

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 20:31:58

Ah, I was going to say 'buy a Bosch' but thought it might be economically impolite. My parents got theirs from John Lewis - think they give you a three-year guarantee.

Wish I had seen that thread Vulp, I'm obviously in need of a bit of help in these matters!

policywonk Mon 03-Aug-09 20:32:38

I wouldn't tangle with Thready in matters of hyphenation if I were you...

VulpusinaWilfsuit Mon 03-Aug-09 20:33:02

We have a vv nice Miele. Wonderful. STainless steel drum. Apparently helps with summat or other. <sucker>

VulpusinaWilfsuit Mon 03-Aug-09 20:33:56


<runs away, coquettishly>

Threadworm Mon 03-Aug-09 22:00:41

I would like a Miele but I was afraid of the price. Is bosch ecomomically impolite bcs expensive or bcs cheap? (Typically middle class, I'm not sure whether to feel angsty about my seeming wealth or angsty about my seeming poverty.)

Have I given the impression of being a hyphen jihadist then? I keep sounding dogmatic and offended when I don't mean to be. I am almost never ever angry with other posters, only annoyed with the crappiness that all my posts seem to have immediately after I press 'send'.

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