strange (?) use of hyphen

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strange (?) use of hyphen

Post by Archived Topic » Tue Jan 01, 2002 10:08 am

An AP story April 21 describes…a hole 6-feet deep…,” somewhat parallel to the practice undertaken by Consumer Reports a few years ago: eg, “…3-million dollars…” a hyphen application unusual and perhaps distracting to some readers. It jarred me.



In “6-ft. hole,” or better yet, “6-ft. holes,” the hyphen is of course correct because it identifies a compound adjective; otherwise we might think there’s such a thing as a “foot hole,” and that there were six of them.



But I’m confused about the rationale behind 6-feet deep holes and I hope one of your lingo-proficient bloggers can help me out here.–Thank you all––DaleH


Submitted by dale hileman (Apple Valley, CA - U.S.A.)
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strange (?) use of hyphen

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 10:22 am

Dale, I’m with you. According to all the rules of hyphenation that I’ve seen, and there are exceptions – but this doesn’t appear to me to be one of them – you’re right and ‘a hole 6-feet deep’ looks very wrong to me (but who knows what rules lurk in the hearts of men/women?). On the other hand, triple hyphenation for the three-word modifier in a ‘6-foot-deep hole’ (see your ‘next-to-last’ sentence, or is it ‘next to last,’ or is it ‘nexttolast,’ um, I’ll cop out with ‘penultimate’ (<:) – no, ‘next-to-last’ is ‘right,’ but it is clear what you meant!) would seem to me to be correct following the sensible rule that, in general, there are as many hyphens as there are words in the modifier (e.g. ‘anti-capital-gains-tax-cut folks’).
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Ken G – June 11, 2004



Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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strange (?) use of hyphen

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 10:37 am

Dale, Ken,

Quirk and Greenbaum in my rather dated "University Grammar of English" (which I had to dig out specially to try to answer this one) say that one of the uses of the hyphen is:
"The junction of phrasal units used as premodifiers ('a vase of the fourteenth century', but a 'fourteenth-century vase')".

This is normal with things such as "a ten-ton truck" and "the truck weighs ten tons".

In Dale's example, we have an adjective "deep" postmodifying the noun "hole". However, the adjective itself is premodified by "6-feet". Thus (in my opinion correctly) only the premodifying phrasal element took the hyphen in the author's original version.

The "6-foot-deep hole" is, of course hyphenated correctly with two hyphens, as the entire phrase premodifies the noun "hole". I'm not, however getting into a discussion on the correct use of foot/feet here!
Reply from Phil White (Munich - Germany)
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strange (?) use of hyphen

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 10:51 am

As a possible (purely intuitive) counter-argument to the above, try this:

"He dug a knee-deep hole."
"The hole he dug was knee deep."

My argument in my last post (supported by Quirk/Greenbaum) tells me that the "knee deep" in the second sentence above doesn't need a hyphen. My intuition screams at me that it does.

Lynne Truss in the excellent little "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" has a chapter devoted to the hyphen. Apart from some detail on the traditional, well documented uses of the hyphen, she summarizes: "traditionally, it joins together words, or words-with-prefixes, to aid understanding; it keeps certain other words neatly apart, with an identical intention."

Thus (to steal some of her best examples), "coat-tail" and "de-ice" remain readable when hyphenated, the "pickled-herring merchant" is not the inebriate we may imagine of the "pickled herring merchant" and (best of all) "extra-marital sex" is a very different proposition from "extra marital-sex".

Ultimately, if it helps readers assemble the meaning correctly in their minds, there's a certain justfication for the hyphen. Perhaps that argument also justifies "knee-deep" in the second sentence above.

And at the risk of finding myself in a minority, who among the gurus here would have hyphenated "well documented" as used three paragraphs above and why (or why not)? I believe it usually is nowadays.
Reply from Phil White (Munich - Germany)
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strange (?) use of hyphen

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 11:05 am

Phil, as a non-native English speaker (or maybe a native non-English speaker) I would like to see a discussion on the foot / feet issue you want to evade. That needn't be in this thread, though. My future second wife is an American writer, but she keeps getting those things messed up herself.
Reply from Hans Joerg Rothenberger (Walenstadt - Switzerland)
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strange (?) use of hyphen

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 11:20 am

Hans Jörg,

Open it up on another thread. It would interest me. My gut-reaction is that it depends what follows ("a 12-inch ruler" but "the ruler's 12-inches long").
Reply from Phil White (Munich - Germany)
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strange (?) use of hyphen

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 11:34 am

Phil, This may sound like a cop-out, but what I generally do, if I can, when I’m not sure of a question such as this (however, this one I was fairly sure of – when I see two modifiers in a row) is look in a few dictionaries and use them as a guide. I looked in ‘The Random House Unabridged Dictionary,’ The ‘OED,’ and ‘The Cambridge International Dictionary of English’ and found that they all hyphenated ‘well-documented.’ In fact, a check of Random House showed that they hyphenated 100 % of the other 843 adjective uses beginning with ‘well’ from ‘well-annotated’ through ‘well-yoked.’ So, I guess a well-tempered approach would be to hyphenate! (<:)
___________________

Ken G – June 11. 2004

Reply from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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strange (?) use of hyphen

Post by Archived Reply » Tue Jan 01, 2002 11:49 am

Ken,

Most "authorities", including the ones you cite, regard the combination of the adverb "well" and the past participle (e.g. "documented") as a compound modifier in the same way as "the red-brown dog".

The American Heritage® Book of English Usage, 1996 has a discussion to this effect. The whole article is under
http://www.bartleby.com/64/84.html

Among other things, they write
"Compound adjectives formed with an adverb or a noun and a past participle are always hyphenated when they precede the noun they modify: well-kept secret, above-mentioned reason, helium-filled balloons, snow-capped mountains."

They also write
"If the adverb ends in -ly in an adverb-adjective compound, the hyphen is omitted: a finely tuned mechanism, a carefully worked canvas."

And this is where my problem lies (and that of an English teacher in my distant past). If you take the two examples "a finely bound book" and "a well bound book" (my lack of hyphenation in the latter), you have an identical grammatical construction, namely an adverb modifying a past participle (adjective) which in turn modifies a noun. There is no sensible reason to hyphenate one and not the other. All parts of speech are doing their normal job quite happily without the need for a hyphen. The syntax and word grouping are perfectly clear without hyphenation.

There is an entertaining article in agreement with my position under
http://www.dvorkin.com/essays/anglophonia/a6.htm

Another more serious one is in the GSC Guide to Authors under
http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/ess/pubs/guide/p ... hen_e.html

In the latter, it says

"[Do not hyphenate] ... if the adverb in a compound adjective cannot be misread as an adjective modifying the noun (the use of hyphens with adverbs ending in ly and with the adverb 'well' are the most common errors):"

Indeed, the whole of the GSC article strikes me as being well founded (primarily, of course, because it agrees with me).

Reply from Phil White (Munich - Germany)
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