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When to Hyphenate Words

awnlee jawking
Updated:

This article in my newspaper du jour piqued my interest, especially since we've discussed hyphenation in the forum.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5944141/No-mix-ups-four-easy-rules-help-determine-place-pesky-hyphens.html

Note that the author is a professor (ie past their peak) with a book to sell.

AJ

Ross at Play
Updated:

I note the article was in a British newspaper. I suggest those who write in American English do not read it! It could only create extra confusion for them.

I'm not impressed by the article. "Rules" which 'work 75% of the time' aren't rules in my book, merely descriptive of tendencies for native speakers. I won't be abandoning my use of dictionaries after learning of this "discovery".

One of the observations confirms something I have noticed. Nouns tend to skip over the hyphenated form. They tend to go straight from the open form (two words) to the closed form (one word). And the tendency to jump to the closed form is more common when both words have only one syllable.

In contrast, other parts of speech tend to get stuck at the hyphenated form.

Also, I don't think it's as common as the article suggests for verbs as they frequently remain as phrasal verbs with an open form.

REP

@awnlee jawking

Her rules overlook the history of why words transition from two words to two hyphenated words to a single word.

The transition is based on acceptance by readers. The writer adding a hyphen does not mean the hyphenated word pair is an accepted word form. Once readers start accepting the hyphenated word pair as valid, the single word form starts to show up. This process usually takes many years to complete.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

One of the observations confirms something I have noticed. Nouns tend to skip over the hyphenated form. They tend to go straight from the open form (two words) to the closed form (one word). And the tendency to jump to the closed form is more common when both words have only one syllable.

Now that's an interesting observation. So you're suggesting that 'the natural tendency' is to hyphenate multiple-syllable words, but to simply combine them for simpler single-syllable ones. Wouldn't that give authors a justification for simply combining words on the fly, even if they're currently not defined as such in the current iteration of the ever changing dictionary entries?

I mean, in the current world of continually changing word usages, why get caught up in the inherent hesitation of the 'dictionary class' holding everyone else back?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

So you're suggesting that 'the natural tendency' is to hyphenate multiple-syllable words, but to simply combine them for simpler single-syllable ones.

Not quite ... I'm suggesting the "natural tendency" is for multiple-syllable nouns to remain open (separate words), but for simpler single-syllable ones to become closed (one word).

Wouldn't that give authors a justification for simply combining words on the fly, even if they're currently not defined as such in the current iteration of the ever changing dictionary entries?

Yes. As an editor I may flag a new closed form of an expression spellcheckers don't recognise but I would not necessary suggest they change it. I might suggest they check the frequency of both forms with ngrams first. Mostly I'd be asking how they intend to ensure they use the same form the next time they use that expression in the same story. For that, I'd suggest their preference is added to their personal style guide, so both they and their editors have somewhere to check what choices the author has already made.

Switch Blayde

@awnlee jawking

I don't want to follow rules determined by statistically examining what's out there.

Replies:   awnlee jawking  REP
Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

Nouns tend to skip over the hyphenated form. They tend to go straight from the open form (two words) to the closed form (one word).


I don't know about nouns going straight to one word without the hyphen. Make-up became makeup over time and make-up is still used by some (including me). And hard-on is a noun that is hyphenated.

Replies:   Ross at Play
awnlee jawking

@Switch Blayde

I don't want to follow rules determined by statistically examining what's out there.


Actually that pretty much describes how the 'rules' of grammar came about, once the idea of replicating the structure of Latin failed to make too much headway.

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play  REP
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

I don't know about nouns going straight to one word without the hyphen.

You are misrepresenting what I said.

Firstly, the statements I made before your quote was this:

I'm not impressed by the article. "Rules" which 'work 75% of the time' aren't rules in my book, merely descriptive of tendencies for native speakers. I won't be abandoning my use of dictionaries after learning of this "discovery".

I didn't say there weren't exceptions; I was clear there were too many to rely on the conclusions in the article.

Then in both sentences you quoted began with, "Nouns/They tend to ..."

My actual point was it is more common for nouns to skip the hyphenated form than other parts of speech. That is something I had previously observed.

Did you read the article AJ provided the link to? It states that words with two letters, like both of your examples, are generally exceptions which, unlike other nouns, tend to take hyphenated forms.

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

once the idea of replicating the structure of Latin failed to make too much headway.

Hmm? Mewonders what the plebs of Rome really thought when pompous pedants "helpfully" corrected their grammar.

Switch Blayde

@Ross at Play

My actual point was it is more common for nouns to skip the hyphenated form than other parts of speech.


I misunderstood what you said. Sorry.

I read the article, but gave no credence to it.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Switch Blayde

I read the article, but gave no credence to it.

... then your attention wandered and stuff happened. No problem! :-)

Ernest Bywater

@awnlee jawking

I've two big issues with this article:

1. She studied a limited set of words and made her decision based on that study.

Last time I looked at an analysis of a major dictionary there were many millions of words in the English language and more than ten thousand had hyphens in them. Also, that analysis I saw was over a decade ago, and many more have been added since

Then you get the differences between cultures where some will say carpark, others car-park, and others car park.

2. The study totally ignores the context aspect of the use of hyphens in compound words.

I will back up my car to move it out of the way, while I will back-up my data to keep a spare copy. Context is very important.

Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

I will back up my car to move it out of the way, while I will back-up my data to keep a spare copy. Context is very important.

Except most computer uses now accept 'backup' as the preferred spelling. "Back-up" is SO 2010! 'D

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Except most computer uses now accept 'backup' as the preferred spelling. "Back-up" is SO 2010! 'D


also back-up is UK spelling and backup is US spelling. However, you can still get your back up when angry in both.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

while I will back-up my data to keep a spare copy


I carry out a back-up to create a backup ;)

AJ

awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

It states that words with two letters, like both of your examples, are generally exceptions which, unlike other nouns, tend to take hyphenated forms.


So when you see something you like, it's a turn-on. But when you see something you dislike, it's a turn off. ;)

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

So when you see something you like, it's a turn-on. But when you see something you dislike, it's a turn off. ;)

I'm going to turn in now. It's 6AM local time and the World Cup has been playing havoc with my sleeping patterns.

Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

hen you get the differences between cultures where some will say carpark, others car-park, and others car park.


And Americans say Garage, parking ramp, or parking lot. :) I don't know of anywhere in the US where any variant of carpark is used.

awnlee jawking

@Ernest Bywater

carpark


Why would anyone build a boat to protect fish from floodwater? ;)

They don't noah what they're doing.

AJ

Replies:   REP
richardshagrin
Updated:

Some war gamers play Euro games. Other war-gamers play Euro-games. There might even be wargamers who play Eurogames. I suppose it depends on how fast they play, some are slower, others prefer dashing around.

If a word still has its hyphen, it probably is a virgin.

REP

@Switch Blayde

I don't want to follow rules determined by statistically examining what's out there


I don't blame you. There are a large number of atrocious writers out there. Their illiteracy would influence the grammar 'norm'.

REP

@awnlee jawking

Actually that pretty much describes how the 'rules' of grammar came about


Probably true. But should we change the rules because people don't follow them.

Should we make the speed limit in a crowded city 65 mph (about 100 km/h) because people don't want to go 35.

Rules are made to control or standardize things that many believe need to be controlled or standardized. Rules should be examined to see if they should be changed, but changing a rule because people don't care to follow it isn't logical.

REP

@awnlee jawking

Be careful or you will get the title Richard the Second.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
Dominions Son

@REP

But should we change the rules because people don't follow them.


That depends on where the rules come from.

Should we make the speed limit in a crowded city 65 mph (about 100 km/h) because people don't want to go 35.


In the case of speed limits, there is an entity (government) with the specific authority to prescribe the rules and to enforce them.

The problem with grammar is that no such entity exists.

The rules of grammar come from social convention. Rules for grammar, social interaction, or anything else, that come from social convention can, should and will change if enough people don't follow them.

Replies:   REP
awnlee jawking

@REP

Does that mean I'll have to start writing stories about brothers suddenly developing incestuous feelings for their blonde-haired, blue-eyed sisters? ;)

AJ

awnlee jawking

@REP

But should we change the rules because people don't follow them.


In the case of language, people not following the 'rules' are the instigators of change.

Should we make the speed limit in a crowded city 65 mph (about 100 km/h) because people don't want to go 35.


That depends. In the UK, many crowded cities have ring roads for the specific purpose of moving traffic quickly and speed limits of 50mph are common.

On the other hand, under-educated eco-enthusiast politicians are bringing in city centre speed limits of 20 mph, with road humps, because they like the extra noise, air pollution and fuel consumption, and the increased wear on car suspensions :(

Frankly, if most drivers ignore a speed limit and there's no significant increase in accidents, to me that indicates it was a bad speed limit in the first place.

AJ

Replies:   REP
REP

@Dominions Son

I would disagree, DS.

Rules exist. They are created by our society as laws or as the result of social convention. The means of enforcing those rules can be a government agency or social pressure. You will not be successful in enforcing rules all of the time. People are willful individuals and they will ignore the rules and do what they want to do.

When enough people refuse to comply with a rule, it becomes subject to change; typically because the majority yields to the pressure of the situation.

The problem with changing a rule due to people failing to comply with the rule is many rules exist for the welfare of the individual and for the welfare of society as a whole. If that fact is ignored and a rule is changed for whatever reason, then the individual and/or society will be harmed.

Most of us understand this to be true. However there is usually little to nothing that we as individuals can do to prevent people from violating the rules and creating a situation where a rule is changed.

Replies:   Dominions Son
REP

@awnlee jawking

people not following the 'rules' are the instigators of change.


Change can be for the good of society, but it can also have a negative impact. Standardization of rules for communication is a good thing. Ignoring the standardized rules degrades the quality of the communication.

Frankly, if most drivers ignore a speed limit and there's no significant increase in accidents, to me that indicates it was a bad speed limit in the first place.


You and I both know that I am talking about people exceeding the legal speed limit at a given location. The actual legal speed at a given location can be higher or lower than it is at another location. How the legal speed at a location is determined is up to the local authority. Regardless of whether the legal speed is lower than it needs to be, the proper way to change that value is community action.

Considering the poor driving skills exhibited by many drivers, any increase in a legal speed limit will most likely result in an increase in the number of accidents. If you set the limit at 30, they will do 40, and if the limit is changed to 40, they will do 50, etc. The severity of the higher-speed accidents will also be higher due to the higher impact forces. That means an increase in the number of injuries, more people requiring hospitalization, and a higher death rate.

Dominions Son

@REP

The problem with changing a rule due to people failing to comply with the rule is many rules exist for the welfare of the individual and for the welfare of society as a whole.


True, but very few strictly social convention rules fall into that category and language/grammar rules most definitely do not fall into that category.

What you describe, are the sorts of rules that we generally create and enforce through governments.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  REP
Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Dominions Son


What you describe, are the sorts of rules that we generally create and enforce through governments.


I can see it now: the anti-regulation Trump administration could institute a new military force, the Grammar Police, who'll crackdown on any scafflaw who violates any of the currently accepted grammar norms.

Sorry, I can't see that working by any stretch of the imagination!

Note: Sorry, but that comment was directed at REP's original post, not at DS's response to it.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Grammar Police, who'll crackdown on any scafflaw

How long in prison would you get for misspelling the word 'scofflaw'?

How often would EB get sued?

REP

@Dominions Son

What would happen to clear communication if everyone were to decide to ignore the rules of grammar and just throw the words of a sentence together in any order and let you figure out how they are supposed to fit together.

Yeah, it will never happen but if the rules of how to construct a sentence were to be violated we wouldn't be able to communicate verbally or in writing.

Replies:   Dominions Son  madnige
Dominions Son

@REP

Yeah, it will never happen but if the rules of how to construct a sentence were to be violated we wouldn't be able to communicate verbally or in writing.


No, this just isn't true. Multiple studies have shown that even with multiple spelling and grammar errors in a sentence, most people can still figure out what was meant.

Just look at some of the writings from the founding era of the US, they were very loose with both spelling and grammar and they were still able to communicate.

Replies:   REP
REP
Updated:

@Dominions Son

a and and any area as as available can establish far Folsom for found in north patrol personnel SCC survivors temporary the they they they west will will with

As I said, throw the words together in any order. Here is a sentence with the words in alphabetic order. Let me know what it says when you figure out the sentence was.

ETA: Yeah someone deciding that all words in a sentence should be in alphabetic order is an extreme case of someone not following the rules of grammar.

madnige

@REP

What would happen to clear communication if everyone were to decide to ignore the rules of grammar and just throw the words of a sentence together in any order and let you figure out how they are supposed to fit together.


I claim this has already happened

Dominions Son

@REP

Yeah someone deciding that all words in a sentence should be in alphabetic order is an extreme case of someone not following the rules of grammar.


No, it's a case of someone deliberately trying to create an indecipherable string of words. Not remotely the same thing. It proves nothing.

To actually cause a sift in the rules of grammar (or spelling), you need a large percentage of the population all making exactly the same error in the same way.

Replies:   Ross at Play  REP
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Dominions Son

To actually cause a sift in the rules of grammar (or spelling), you need a large percentage of the population all making exactly the same error in the same way.

I agree that is the process which results in the evolution of the English language.

I question REP's assumption that "rules of grammar" even exist, or have ever existed. There have been numerous attempts to document the usual practices of native speakers, but opinions have always varied, and changed over time, and no attempts have ever gained anything close to universal acceptance.

Also, not all rules are the same. For some, most would agree there is a right way and a wrong way but would consider other rules have some degree of flexibility.

Until God returns and carves the rules in stone, I'm not going to be fussed by substantial numbers not doing what I consider "right".

REP

@Dominions Son

It proves nothing.


I would agree modification of a rule starts gradually. It is rare for any shift to be major.

As I said, my example was an extreme and it was ludicrous in that it would never happen. However, what extreme examples demonstrate is the result of how a major change might affect the subject being controlled by the rule.

My point has been that we should not change a rule because people fail to comply with the rule; if the rule needs to be changed then change it to fix the problem(s) it is causing.

How the rules are enforced and the way a rule gets changed are not part of the point I was making. Your comments in that area are just distractions from my point of not changing a rule because people don't comply with it.

Dominions Son

@REP

However, what extreme examples demonstrate is the result of how a major change might affect the subject being controlled by the rule.


An extreme example explicitly designed for incomprehensibility demonstrates absolutely nothing.

Your comments in that area are just distractions from my point of not changing a rule because people don't comply with it.


Your point is meaningless in the context of language, because the "rules" of language are never more than a description of majority conventions.

If a majority of the speakers/writers in a given language adopt a new convention, the "rule" has already changed. That reference guides on grammar haven't caught up with the change means less than nothing.

Replies:   Ross at Play  REP
Ross at Play

@REP

my point of not changing a rule because people don't comply with it.

When and how does a rule become a rule that can no longer be changed? Who decides that?

Would you agree it's generally accepted there is a rule against using words as if they were conjunctions unless dictionaries include their use as conjunctions in their definitions of those words?

What about the word 'like'? Ignoring the fact that many use it nowadays like a speech impediment, dictionaries did not define it as an acceptable conjunction fifty years ago, yet its use as a conjunction has become relatively common.

So ... we now have dictionary.com which lists it as a valid conjunction and CMOS which insists that is an error! Which is right? What is the rule? ... or is the reality that there never has been, and never can be, a statement of a rule which would then remain fixed?

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

the "rule" has already changed.

Bravo! The definitive and complete answer to this question expressed in only five words. :-)

REP
Updated:

@Dominions Son

I said:

What would happen to clear communication if everyone were to decide to ignore the rules of grammar and just throw the words of a sentence together in any order and let you figure out how they are supposed to fit together.


Your reply was:

No, this just isn't true. Multiple studies have shown that even with multiple spelling and grammar errors in a sentence, most people can still figure out what was meant.


So I created a rule change and used it to create an example of how clear communication could be impacted by the rule change, and because you didn't like the result you said:

An extreme example explicitly designed for incomprehensibility demonstrates absolutely nothing.


The example was an extreme and it was designed to show how a rule change made just because others don't want to comply with the existing rule might lead to a decrease in comprehensibility.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@REP


The example was an extreme and it was designed to show how a rule change made just because others don't want to comply with the existing rule might lead to a decrease in comprehensibility.


Being explicitly designed to create an incomprehensible result, it's a complete fail at showing what you intended to show.

Some people may deliberately ignore certain rules of grammar, but they are not intentionally going for incomprehensibility. Your example is too unrealistic to support your point.

Ross at Play

@REP

a decrease in comprehensibility.

Comprehensibility is the test for whether something new in language evolves to the point where it is considered acceptable, in an analogous way to genetic mutations only contribute to the evolution of new species if they enhance the survival rate of individuals.

Not so many decades ago, 'dove' as the past tense of 'dive' would have been considered a grammatical error, but common enough in some parts of America to be classified as a regional idiom. It is only because listeners could comprehend it, and some changed their preference to using it too, that it gradually evolved to become one of two variants used with approximately equally frequency in America.

According to your argument, about 48% of Americans are complete morons ... although I see some anecdotal evidence to support that claim. :-)

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@REP

a and and any area as as available can establish far Folsom for found in north patrol personnel SCC survivors temporary the they they they west will will with


People can usually decipher jumbled-up sentences given context, but with no context and inadequate cultural knowledge, this has me flummoxed - I'd appreciate the answer.

This puzzle has prompted me to find a way of illustrating a case where science shows many writing 'experts' give bad advice ;)

AJ

Replies:   REP
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

According to your argument, about 48% of Americans are complete morons


Is 'me either', where Americans say the diametric opposite of what they mean, already that common? ;)

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
richardshagrin

Rule of Grammar: Everybody has two of them, and two grampars. Of course eventually they die, unless you do first.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@richardshagrin

Rule of Grammar: Everybody has two of them, and two grampars.


You're so going to be in trouble from militant-LGBTQ activists :(

AJ

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

Is 'me either', where Americans say the diametric opposite of what they mean, already that common? ;)

They are getting there.

British poodles are not far behind.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Ross at Play

They are getting there.


The top of that chart is 0.0000450%. It may be headed in that direction, but I'd say it has a long way to go.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Dominions Son

It may be headed in that direction, but I'd say it has a long way to go.

I was being pretty selective with the data I chose.

I could have chosen data which suggests about 15% of Americans are complete morons and that has hardly budged in a century, and about 15% of British are complete morons and that has hardly budged in a century too.

richardshagrin
Updated:

Morons have IQ scores of 70 or below, two standard deviations (15 is one standard deviation for IQ score) below the mean of 100. Only about 5% of all statistics are two standard deviations from the mean, and that means only about two and a half percent have IQ scores below 70. Also some people who may qualify as morons have had their gall bladders, tonsils or appendix removed and therefore are not complete morons.

From Wikipedia: "The term imbecile was once used by psychiatrists to denote a category of people with moderate to severe intellectual disability, as well as a type of criminal. The word arises from the Latin word imbecillus, meaning weak, or weak-minded. It included people with an IQ of 26–50, between "idiot" (IQ of 0–25) and "moron" (IQ of 51–70)."

Replies:   awnlee jawking
REP

@awnlee jawking

I didn't seriously intend for anyone to try to put the sentence back together AJ. I was talking about one thing and DS seemed to be redefining my point throwing in enforcing compliance and other things like minor changes being comprehensible. So I gave him an extreme example.

They will patrol as far west and north as they can with available personnel and they will establish a temporary SCC for any survivors found in the Folsom area.

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

I'm not an expert with n-grams, but when I compared 'me either' with 'me neither', 'me either was comfortably ahead.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@richardshagrin

If it's true that IQs have dropped 7 points per decade since the 1970s, that means the average IQ at the beginning of the next decade will be about 30 points below the average from the 1970s, meaning 50% of the population can be classed as morons.

AJ

awnlee jawking

@REP

Thank you.

AJ

Ross at Play

@awnlee jawking

I'm not an expert with n-grams, but when I compared 'me either' with 'me neither', 'me either was comfortably ahead.

Can you clarify the usage point you're making?

Is it that many respond with 'Me either' to 'I don't like that' when the correct way to say what they mean is 'Me neither'? Ngrams does suggest that most get that one wrong. I think I'd always say 'Me too' instead, which I consider is correct.

Replies:   awnlee jawking  madnige
awnlee jawking

@Ross at Play

Is it that many respond with 'Me either' to 'I don't like that' when the correct way to say what they mean is 'Me neither'?


Yes.

AJ

madnige

@Ross at Play

I think I'd always say 'Me too' instead, which I consider is correct.


Moi aussi

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@madnige

Moi aussi


I thought you were a Brit. I didn't realise you're from down under ;)

AJ

Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

I'm not an expert with n-grams, but when I compared 'me either' with 'me neither', 'me either was comfortably ahead.


Does it matter if neither version is used very much?

Replies:   awnlee jawking
awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

n-grams reveal the usage in mostly professionally proofread and academic literature. In less formal work, eg SOL, they're used much more often.

Personally I think a clear distinction between positive and negative is worth fighting for. I recently read a story containing a long, complex sentence that appeared to make no sense. When I went back and re-read it, I realised the author had written "can" instead of "can't". Unfortunately that sort of mistake seems to be occurring more and more frequently, commensurate with the uptake of "me either". :(

AJ

Dominions Son

@awnlee jawking

Personally I think a clear distinction between positive and negative is worth fighting for.


I don't disagree in principle, but to show a problem with the either/neither, you have to demonstrate that 'me either' is not just more common than 'me neither' but that it's common in absolute terms. The ngrams data fails on the latter point.

n-grams reveal the usage in mostly professionally proofread and academic literature.


There are fiction only corpi available to use with Google ngrams, which would at least exclude academic literature and most other forms of formal writing.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

commensurate with the uptake of "me either"

I have mislead you on that one. I wanted to make a joke about 'British poodles' and had to work hard to find a way for show data which could support that.

In fact, using ngrams to look at the percentages getting it incorrect, I'd say that changes over the last hundred years and differences between American and British English are both insignificant.

Ross at Play

@Dominions Son

that it's common in absolute terms. The ngrams data fails on the latter point.

I looked at the ratios of 'me neither' to 'me either', then 'me either' to 'me too'.

Both ratios in the range 15-20% - with no significant differences over the past 100 years, between American and British English, and between the fiction and English corpi.

That is enough to convince me that the error AJ notices is quite common, but not enough to spend any more time discussing it.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Ross at Play

I looked at the ratios of 'me neither' to 'me either'

If you leave the spaces out after me you get meneither or meeither. The one with men makes more sense than the one with mee.

awnlee jawking

@Dominions Son

I checked for British English and the proportion of 'me either' to 'me neither' is about the same as other corpi. Since a Brit just wouldn't say 'me either' when they meant 'me neither', that suggests there's a different usage of 'me either' that I'm completely overlooking :(

AJ

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play
Updated:

@awnlee jawking

that suggests there's a different usage of 'me either' that I'm completely overlooking

I had a think about that before. I can see a valid usage in imperative statements, e.g. Give me either one.

Since a Brit just wouldn't say 'me either' when they meant 'me neither'

Ngrams data suggests that if Brits rarely make that mistake then Americans would not either.

Damn ... now you've got me doubting whether my use of 'either' in that last sentence was incorrect. :(

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