To Hyphenate or Not To Hyphenate After a Noun: That Is the Wrong Question

Updated May 24

This job is long-term.

This job is long term.

Do you need the hyphen here? Most authorities say no. Don’t hyphenate a compound modifier when it follows a noun. Before a noun, yes (This is a long-term job), but after, no (This job is long term).

Most authorities also point out exceptions. They say that some compounds (razor-sharp, risk-averse, time-sensitive, blue-green) need a hyphen even when they follow a noun. Uh-oh. Not so fast. I just checked the latest edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. When I wasn’t looking, the authorities behind this heavyweight guide changed their minds about the hyphenation of color compounds, like blue-green: “Compound adjectives formed with color words … now … remain open when they follow the noun.”

So much for blue-green—I mean blue green—needing a hyphen after a noun.

So much for “the” right answer.

Happily, I’m seeking not a right answer but a right question. Most authorities don’t tell you that if you ask “Do I need a hyphen here?” after a noun, you’re almost always asking the wrong question … Continue reading