LawProse Lesson #152: Hyphenating phrasal adjectives (Part 2)

LawProse Lesson #152: Hyphenating phrasal adjectives (Part 2)

Hyphenating phrasal adjectives (Part 2). Last week we began a study of phrasal adjectives. It gets complicated. One correspondent said she’d never hyphenate high-school dropout (though the Wall Street Journal advises doing so). But high school dropout might suggest a glue-sniffing former truant. You see? Ambiguities can pop up where you least expect them. The other problem is the miscue that occurs when you encounter a high school in text (thinking you’re reading about an institution), but then student (now thinking you’re reading about a person), then assistance, all unhyphenated: a high school student assistance issue. People familiar with it might know the syntax they’re expecting. To anyone else, the hyphens are invaluable in a high-school student-assistance issue. The same principle applies to the shorter phrase high-school student. Start noticing all the hyphens when you read the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. They save time and spare you some mental strain. Here are a few more nuances. Periods of time or amounts. With compound adjectives denoting periods of time or amounts, drop the plurals {nine-month pregnancy; 24-hour-a-day service; two-liter bottle}. Note that you would write 30-day notice or 30 days’ notice but not 30-days notice. There is an exception of sorts for fractions: two-thirds majority. Suspensive hyphens. When two phrasal adjectives end in a common element, use a suspensive hyphen after the unattached word to show the relationship with the common element {a private- and public-interest policy; he received a two- rather than a four-year sentence; the indirect- and direct-purchaser warranty}. Apostrophes. Keep the apostrophes in a phrasal adjective as you would in a compound noun. Hence: workers’-compensation case; veteran’s-preference statute. The bottom line is that phrasal adjectives can be tricky. If you’re struggling with whether to hyphenate, or if you end up with a long snakelike compound, it might be better to simply reword the sentence. But one has to admire Grant Gilmore and Charles L. Black for their bold reference to the no-lien-for-partial-execution-of-affreightment-contracts rule. See Gilmore & Black, The Law of Admiralty 639 (2d ed. 1975). For further reading, see: The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style § 1.60, at 44-47 (3d ed. 2013). The Winning Brief 276-83 (2d ed. 2004) (3d ed. forthcoming, with an expanded list of common phrasal adjectives in legal writing). Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 674-75 (3d ed. 2011). Garner’s Modern American Usage 625-28 (3d ed. 2009). The Chicago Manual of Style § 5.91, at 227-28, §§ 7.81-.85, at 373-84 (16th ed. 2010). William A. Sabin, The Gregg Reference Manual §§ 813-32, at 224-40 (10th ed. 2005). Note: Last week, there was a typo under the first exception: it should’ve read poorly-thought-out strategy (there was an extra hyphen between out and strategy). We’re sorry for creating any confusion!

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