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Compound Words—Using This Cheat Sheet is Not Cheating

August 15, 2015 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified August 15, 2015

The spelling of compound words is one of those not-so-sexy but majorly useful topics that writers should have a handle on. The right spellings can make manuscripts look good and help convey the correct meanings of our phrases.

Compound words can be open (separate words with spaces between them), closed (a single word, no spaces or hyphens), or hyphenated. While it’s easy to determine whether closed and open compounds are spelled correctly—simply look them up in a current dictionary—the task is a bit harder when you’re faced with hyphenated compounds. The problem here is that hyphenated words can be temporary spellings, hyphenated for the needs of a moment but not for every use. So just because you don’t find the hyphenated word in a dictionary, that doesn’t mean that you don’t hyphenate it. Words that are always hyphenated would be found in a dictionary.


A compound word is simply two or more words joined to create a new word with a meaning different from any of the individual words. There are compounds nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs. A few examples—



heart attack





health care provider



field trip



curtain call

double agent








Words may begin as open compounds and over time evolve into hyphenated compounds and then to closed compounds. While spelling changes usually take time, some words do change quickly, typically as a function of their use. For example, email moved very quickly from a hyphenated compound—e-mail—to the current closed form. Another fast-changing compound was website. It changed from an open compound—Web site—to its current closed form.

If you have any doubt about the spelling of a compound, look it up. And that’s advice for both writers and editors. Writers, don’t count on your editor to look up every word, especially if your subject matter is unusual or if you make up a lot of words. Editors, don’t assume that writers have had the opportunity to look up every word. If you’re in doubt, pull out that dictionary.

Consider creating a general style sheet or spelling list not related to any particular book or project. If you find yourself looking up the same words for yourself or your clients, include those words on your style sheet. Keep the file open on your computer for easy access.

If you can’t find a word in your go-to dictionary, perhaps you spelled it wrong. On the other hand, it might be a temporarily hyphenated compound.

The temporary compounds are often the most difficult to deal with. Often these are adjectives or nouns that we create as we write or those that are hyphenated in some situations but not in others. Our job is to decide about the use of hyphens with such words.

Let’s look at an example.

Timothy is five years old.

There’s no unusual punctuation or spelling here; it’s very straightforward. But what of this next one?

Timothy is a five-year-old boy.

In this sentence Timothy’s age is a compound serving as an adjective for boy.

Here’s another example—

The doctor is good looking.

Another normal sentence. But with a slight change, we have—

She’s a good-looking doctor.

Our doctor isn’t a looking doctor, and she may not be a good doctor. She’s a good-looking doctor. Good and looking aren’t separate adjectives used to describe doctor; good-looking is the single modifier. The words are joined with a hyphen before the noun to ensure there’s no confusion about the meaning. After the noun, there’s usually less chance of a reader reading in the wrong meaning.

So how do you determine when compound adjectives should be hyphenated? There are rules. The most general rule is that you hyphenate for clarity. If not hyphenating a compound causes confusion—perhaps creates a phrase that could be read multiple ways—hyphenate. Or rewrite.

But other rules are more specific, and they can be tricky. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), however, has made our compounding task much easier by laying out categories and showing us rules for hyphenation.

Even better, the CMOS folks have put their handy chart online so that everyone can access it.

CMOS Hyphenation Table

If you don’t have a copy of the current CMOS, I highly recommend that you bookmark or print this guide. I admit that I check this section in CMOS again and again when I edit.

The many examples should help with most of the situations you’ll encounter when deciding how to spell compound words. Yet don’t forget that checking the dictionary first may be a quicker path to your answer.


Long and Detailed Compound Adjectives

In fiction we often string together words to create unusual and one-off adjectives to be used before a noun. While you could use italics for an especially long compound adjective, hyphens can do the job much of the time.

Kyra gave me one of her patented I’m-going-to-pay-you-back-later glares.

He skittered away, his too-big-for-a-clown shoes flapping against the concrete.

If three or more words combine to create a single adjective, hyphenate them. Make sure you don’t put a hyphen between the final word of the adjective and the noun it modifies.

He skittered away, his too-big-for-a-clownshoes flapping against the concrete. X


BrE and AmE

British English (BrE) and American English (AmE) hyphenation rules and suggestions differ in some respects.

BrE recommends hyphenating compound modifiers after a noun if one of the words in the compound is an adjective and the other a participle. So, given one of our earlier examples, in BrE you could write—

The doctor is good-looking.

This would be incorrect in AmE.

We used to find noun compounds hyphenated much more often than we do now. For whatever reason, BrE often turns those into open compounds while AmE makes them into closed compounds.

The point here is that while CMOS has a great list of rules and recommendations, not every recommendation will hold true for British English. New Hart’s Rules also contains a section on compounds; if you’re writing or editing according to BrE rules, check out Hart’s as well as CMOS.


Because there are so many options for hyphenating, I’ve put off writing what will probably end up being a series of articles on the topic. Yet I’m certain that the CMOS cheat sheet will answer many of your questions about the spelling of compound words.

Still, let’s look at a few rules for compounds that you may find useful.

~  Compound adjectives hyphenated before a noun are often open after a noun.

The bluish-gray smoke had me thinking about ghosts.

The smoke was bluish gray and had me thinking about ghosts.

~  Compound adjectives with -ly adverbs are not hyphenated.

The little girl found a newly minted penny on the sidewalk.

The little girl found a newlyminted penny on the sidewalk. X

There is an exception, however, when an -ly adverb is part of a longer phrase.

He used the ever-so-slightly-dirty napkin to clean his face.

~  A number followed by percent is always open.

His concoction was thirty percent chocolate.

~  Compounds with prefixes are almost always closed, but there are multiple exceptions. Check out the final section in the CMOS chart.

The midseason hurricane was a shock to even the forecasters.

It would be mid-June before the house would be finished.

~  Adjectives paired with participles (past and present) are hyphenated before nouns but open after (in AmE).

The coffee-colored stain wouldn’t come out of the carpet.

The stain in the carpet was coffee colored.

The acrid-tasting alcohol made me gag.

The homemade alcohol was acrid tasting.

~  It’s okay to omit the hyphen for common phrases that wouldn’t lead to confusion without its use.

One high school student quit a few months before graduation.


Once you decide on the spelling of a compound, be consistent throughout a project. A reader might never notice a misspelled word when it’s an open compound written as a closed one or a closed one written as a hyphenated one, but many readers might easily notice a closed compound on one page followed two pages later by the same word now hyphenated. Consistency can be a tool to keep the mechanics from standing out, from distracting from the story.

Use the CMOS cheat sheet to create consistent compounds.


Saturday, August 15, 2015, is the final day of the introductory price (7.99) for The Magic of Fiction.



Tags: , ,     Posted in: Grammar & Punctuation, Writing Tips

93 Responses to “Compound Words—Using This Cheat Sheet is Not Cheating”

  1. Love this. Thank you. I’m going to spend a few hours cramming the CMOS. I have an odd little passage from a short story that’s being published in 2016. I chickened out on a creative hyphenation:

    She would lie there, a wordless specter. Her head turned, just ever so, away from him–the failed protector, husband and father. Vanquished. For all the world and blue ruin.

    I had hyphenated “For-all-the-world.” I’d have it in one day, and remove it the next. I gave it up because too many people wanted me to explain what “blue ruin” meant. If readers where struggling with “blue ruin,” why compound the problem with a too-clever-by-half hyphenation? ;-}

  2. Birgitte says:

    Excellent article! I have a question, which comes from reading the New Hart’s Rules 3.3. They advice hyphenating compound adjectives formed from an adjective and a participle also after the noun, e.g., good-looking (as you mention), but further up, they say that compound adjectives should not be hyphenationed when after a noun – they give as an example “long standing”. So now, my question is: what is the difference between “long standing” and “good-looking” since different rules apply to them (I am not a native English speaker)? Thanks from Birgitte

  3. Birgitte, that’s a great question. I’m sure you’re not the only one wondering the same thing.

    The difference is that standing is a noun in the Hart’s example, not a participle. Even though both standing and looking end in -ing, they are different parts of speech. So an agreement of long standing doesn’t fit the exception. That exception is specifically for an adjective paired with a participle.

  4. Mark Schultz says:

    Thank you for the oh-so-needed clarification. This topic has bedeviled many a writer.

  5. Tina Rossi says:

    Beth, one last question.

    Can we omit the hyphens in these when the phrases follow to-be verbs? Or would you advise keeping them?

    The test was multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank.
    The technology was cutting-edge.
    The new software is state-of-the-art.

    Thank you, dear!

    • Tina, I think that people started questioning the adjectives after the nouns (and verbs—especially to-be verbs) when they worried about readers misreading. And yet we still don’t hyphenate compound adjectives unless they come before the noun. Exceptions for compounds that are permanently hyphenated—The TV show was short-lived. Check a current dictionary to be sure.

      See CMOS (16th ed.) section 5.91 (phrasal adjectives), near the end of the long paragraph. Their example is an athlete that is well trained.

      Yes, it’s safe to omit the hyphens when the compound adjective comes after the noun. (Under British English rules, compound adjectives that follow the noun are hyphenated if they are an adjective paired with a participle—good-looking, scarlet-colored.)

      • Tina Rossi says:

        Beth, so as it pertains to my three examples, these are correct, then, without any hyphens? Is this how you’d do it?

        The test was multiple choice and fill in the blank.
        The technology was cutting edge.
        The new software is state of the art.

        Thanks again!

        • Cutting-edge is hyphenated as an adjective in Oxford (Oxford Dictionary of Current English). So that means it’s hyphenated before and after the noun. (Yet you’ll want to check the dictionary you usually use, since yours may not hyphenate it.)

          The others are correct.

  6. Tina Rossi says:

    Hello, Beth—one final hyphen query. These hyphens drive me batty!!! :(

    Which is correct?
    (A) his soon-to-be-ex-wife
    (B) his soon-to-be ex-wife

    And if the phrase precedes a name, do I hyphenate throughout and use commas around the name because I have only one soon-to-be ex-wife?

    E.g.: His soon-to-be-ex-wife, Martha, will be there. (Correct?)

    Her soon-to-be-ex-wife status. (Correct with four hyphens?)

    Thank you! :)

    • Tina, you’re putting me through my paces this week. Thanks for the workout.

      B is the correct choice for your first question. It’s his new ex-wife, his first ex-wife, and his soon-to-be ex-wife. (Don’t connect the noun to the adjective with a hyphen.)

      Commas around the name for your second question, but no hyphen between be and ex (it’s the same situation as the first question)—his soon-to-be ex-wife, Martha, will be there.

      Yes, four hyphens with the final question. Ex-wife becomes part of the compound adjective that modifies status—Her soon-to-be-ex-wife status.

  7. Tina Rossi says:

    Sorry, Beth, for all the questions … You have been a godsend!

    Last hyphen question!

    Is it:

    a 20%-off coupon (nonfiction)
    a twenty-percent-off coupon (fiction)

    Both look correct to you?

    Thanks for everything!!!

  8. Fantastic post
    thank you

  9. Tina Rossi says:

    Hello, Beth—

    Are these hyphenated correctly? If not, how do we correctly hyphenate these four? No recasts, please.

    chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream (no hyphen after “chip”?)

    assistant-store-manager-trainee position

    human-resources-manager-related duties

    human-resources-manager-trainee position

    Thank you, Beth.

    • Tina, a couple of these are tongue twisters, but I’d use what you have if you can’t reword.

      • I’d like to update my reply for one of these examples.

        Chocolate chip doesn’t need a hyphen. It’s a common enough phrase to not need hyphens when used as a compound modifier.

        • Tina Rossi says:


          So it should be:

          chocolate chip cookie-dough ice cream ?

          • Tina, I’m even thinking that cookie dough doesn’t need a hyphen here. I like the hyphen to head off confusion, but cookie dough ice cream is apparently well known without the hyphen. The whole flavor seems to be known without the hyphens. You would be safe to exclude both hyphens.

            I’m glad you got to see this change.

          • Tina Rossi says:

            Beth, I’m also thinking that “assistant store manager trainee position” doesn’t need any hyphens, either. No ambiguity arises, and it’s pretty straightforward. Do you agree?

          • Tina Rossi says:

            And I dare say that

            human resources manager-related duties (one hyphen)

            human resources manager trainee position (no hyphens)

            are correct.


          • Tina, I think I’d keep the hyphens with one of these others for sure

            Chocolate chip and cookie dough are familiar open compounds. The others are compounds we’ve invented. And you want to use a hyphen for the participle one (related).

            Human-resources-manager-related duties works for me. It’s not manager-related duties but human-resources-manager-related duties. Of course, rewriting is always a great option.

            As for human resources manager trainee position—as you said, this one is pretty clear. It would never be wrong to hyphenate, but I’m guessing most readers would understand easily.

  10. Tina Rossi says:

    Thank you, Beth, for all replies to my questions. You are an amazing person with an amazing gift. Again, thank you so much!!!

  11. Denise Lasky says:

    Hoping you can answer this last question.

    Hi, Beth — In a nonfiction arena, could the examples below “pass” in terms of punctuation (i.e., an en dash meaning “to” is used between the numbers, and the hyphens are used in the compound modifiers preceding each noun). Are they clear & crisp upon first reading them, and could they work?

    25–35-year-old men
    20–30-, 35–40-, and 45–50-year-old women
    10–20-percent-a-year increase
    $10–$20-million-a-year job
    within a 5–10-mile radius
    a 20–30-gallon container
    a $70,000–$80,000-per-year income
    a 15–20-foot ladder
    a 1–3-inch-deep laceration
    a 30–40-mile-long stretch of highway
    a 6–10-inch-wide laceration

    Thank you!

  12. Denise Lasky says:

    Or do my examples above look like poor typesetting (with the combo of hyphens & en-dashes)? I think these examples could work.

  13. Denise Lasky says:

    Or should I hyphenate throughout and use hyphens for both purposes?

    25-35-year-old men
    20-30-, 35-40-, and 45-50-year-old women
    10-20-percent-a-year increase
    $10-$20-million-a-year job
    within a 5-10-mile radius
    a 20-30-gallon container
    a $70,000-$80,000-per-year income
    a 15-20-foot ladder
    a 1-3-inch-deep laceration
    a 30-40-mile-long stretch of highway
    a 6-10-inch-wide laceration

    Thanks again, Beth!

  14. Denise Lasky says:

    Late last night I received a reply from the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue. They said the examples below — for nonfiction — were perfectly acceptable and readable, and to just use a hyphen between the numbers and not in the compound modifiers. Just asking for your opinion here: do you agree with them? 

    No hyphens in the modifiers for ranges, they said.

    a 15-20% a year savings

    19-26 year olds

    a $20,000-$40,000 per year savings

    a 10-20 mile radius

    a $3-$5 million a year contract

    20-30, 40-50, and 60-70 year old men

    a 1-3 inch deep laceration

    a 20-30 mile long commute

    an 3-5 mile wide forest fire

    But for singular entities they said to hyphenate throughout:

    a 20%-a-year savings


    $40,000-per-year savings

    a 20-mile radius

    a $5-million-a-year contract

    70-year-old men

    a 3-inch-deep laceration

    a 30-mile-long commute

    a 5-mile-wide forest fire

    Are you in agreement with all examples above?

    Thank you so much, Beth!

  15. Denise, Purdue’s lab is a great resource, one I use myself. I can’t, however, see skipping the hyphens for at least some of these.

    For example, 19-26 year olds doesn’t make much sense. And a 20-30 mile long commute would have readers doing a double take. In addition, we typically spell out numbers less than 10 even in nonfiction, so you might want to reconsider those with small numbers.

    The problem is, sometimes one rule creates problems for other rules, and therefore sometimes you have to write around one problem or the other. The folks at Purdue have chosen one option, maybe because of the limitations of the choices offered them. But just because something might be acceptable, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look for a better option.

    You can guess that readers are going to wonder about the men who are only a year old in this example—20-30, 40-50, and 60-70 year old men. This almost looks like the number of men, not their ages.


    These sounds like the same kind of questions asked Stack Exchange, and I think those answers weren’t fully satisfactory either. Do you have to answer these questions for a course or class? Are you unable to choose rewriting as a better option? I don’t know that you’ll find a consensus for these—there are multiple ways to make each example work, but those ways may not be perfect for all situations, if that makes sense.

  16. Lou Sanders says:

    Following Chicago’s guidance, which would be correct?

    Temps are expected in the low- to midfifties.

    Temps are expected in the low-to-midfifties.


    • Lou, I’m going to say neither. I suggest—

      Temps are expected in the low to midfifties.

      Low fifties is an open compound in this sentence. It wouldn’t be written lowfifties or low-fifties, so I see no reason for the suspended hyphen.

      I may be mistaken, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a suspension hyphen used with an open compound in any style manual or other resource.


      A good question. If I discover a rule pertaining to an open compound, I’ll note it here.

  17. Lou Sanders says:

    If I may (with regard to Tina’s question), I was always taught to hyphenate throughout with her examples, because “to” is used. Would you give your blessing, Beth, to all of my rewrites below?

    a 15-to-20%-a-year savingssavings
    a 15-to-20-percent-a-year savings
    a fifteen-to-twenty-percent-a-year savings


    a $20,000-to-$40,000-per-year-savings
    a twenty-to-forty-thousand-dollar-per-year savings

    a 10-to-20-mile radius
    a ten-to-twenty-mile radius

    a $3-to-$5 million-a-year contract
    a three-to-five-million-dollar-a-year contract

    Although not very graceful, these are correct. I think Beth might concur…
    20-to-30-, 40-to-50-, and 60-to-70-year-old men
    twenty-to-thirty-, forty-to-fifty-, and sixty-to-seventy-year-old men

    a 1-to-3-inch-deep laceration
    a one-to-three-inch-deep laceration

    a 20-to-30-mile-long commute
    a twenty-to-thirty-mile-long commute

    a 3-to-5-mile-wide forest fire
    a three-to-five-mile-wide commute

  18. Lou Sanders says:

    Oooops! I meant to include a hyphen after “5,” which I failed to do in the post above this one.

    a $3-to-$5-million-a-year contract

  19. Lou Sanders says:

    This is my last query. Thanks for everything, Beth. I think you’d score me 100 percent with Denise’s hyphen examples above—both with the numeric and spelled-out versions.

    What I wanted to know is whether your personal druthers would favor the punctuation, as I have done, in my 6:56 am post above.

    Thank you, and have a great holiday season!

    • Lou, yes, I’d probably go with your hyphenation if I couldn’t rewrite some of the more involved sentences. But if I could, I’d reword some to make the read easier for readers.

      For the examples using 3 to 5 and 1 to 3, I’d probably recommend writing out the numbers.


      I love that there are options that fit different circumstances, but sometimes it’s difficult to make a choice, especially for the odd sentences or for examples that don’t fit the common pattern.

      You’re most welcome. I hope you enjoy the holidays too.

  20. Lou Sanders says:


    a grammar-and-punctuation book
    a yes-or-no answer
    a yes-and-no reply
    country-and-western music
    rock-and-roll music

    A huge thanks!

    • Lou, it’s never wrong to use hyphens in such cases—adjectives before a noun—but you can skip the hyphen when there’s no chance of misreading.

      Rock and roll music probably doesn’t need hyphens. And country-and-western music might be better as country-western music or some other subgenre of country music.

  21. Lou Sanders says:

    I think I figured out a trick when to hyphenate after -ly words.

    a happily married couple
    (No hyphen, because if we omitted “married” we’d have a “happily couple”; hence, no hyphen.)

    a matronly-looking woman
    (Hyphen used because if we omitted ” looking” we’d have “a matronly woman,” which makes sense; hence, use the hyphen.)

    an oily-faced adolescent
    Remove “faced” and we have “an oily adolescent” —again, which makes sense, so use the hyphen.

    Am I onto something here?

    • Lou, you could be. And if that method works for you, go with it. But the easiest way to understand this rule is in knowing that we don’t hyphenate two-word compounds that begin with an -ly word that’s an adverb.

      Matronly is an adjective, so we hyphenate. Oily is an adjective as well. Happily is an adverb.

  22. Denise Lasky says:

    Beth, if we can use full hyphenation on both sides of “to” as part of a phrasal adjective, can we do the same with “and” or “or”? These are commonly uttered phrases. No recasts, please. :-)

    This: $100-and-$250-a-month donations

    Instead of:
    $100- and $250-a-month donations

    This: $100-or-$250-a-month donations

    Instead of:
    $100- or $250-a-month donations

    This: five-and-six-year-old children

    Instead of:
    five- and six-year-old children

    If you were faced with the examples above, which would be your picks in each pair? The full hyphenation (in lieu of the suspended hyphenation) definitely looks cleaner. Would you give your approval to hyphens on both sides of ” and” and “or,” as you do with “to”?

    Thank you.

    • Jake Houck says:

      Now I’m very curious.

      You said that “$50-to-$60-million-a-year business” is unequivocally correct exactly as punctuated.

      With “and” and “or,” could we also use full hyphenation?

      $20-and-$30-million-a-year businesses
      twenty-and-thirty-year-old men
      $60-or-$70-per-month donations

      Or are we just allowed to use full hyphenation, with “to,” in “$50-to-$60-million-a-year business”?

      In other words, no suspended hyphenation with ” to.” If full hyphenation is not correct with “and” and “or” (as illustrated above), would we do this below?

      $20- and $30-million-a-year businesses
      $20- and $30-a-month service fees
      twenty- and thirty-year-old men
      $60- or $70-per-month donations

      Please advise what you think the correct punctuation is in my examples above when using “and” and “or.”

      Thank you. :-)

      • Jake, remember that these compounds are modifying a noun. Using the word to, we’re looking at a single compound. Using and and or followed by a shared word or term, we’re typically talking a series of at least two compounds. With the suspended hyphen, we’re using the hyphen to take the place of repeated words in the series of modifiers so that they don’t need to be repeated.

        She contemplated the two-to-three-foot ladder.

        Compare to—

        She contemplated the two- and three-foot ladders. In its long form, this would be written—She contemplated the two-foot ladders and the three-foot ladders.

        In the first example, there’s a single compound modifier. The words of the compound are hyphenated because they are linked as a single unit.

        In the second example, we’ve got two modifiers—two-foot ladders and three-foot ladders.

        With and and or and the suspended hyphen, we’ve got separate modifiers that share an element. With to, there’s just the one modifier. With one multiword modifier, we connect all the words. With the series of separate modifiers that happen to share terms, we use the suspended hyphen and don’t connect all the words.

        There are probably exceptions, but this should help guide your choice. So close up a single modifier but use the suspended hyphen for a series of modifiers that happen to share words/terms.


        Don’t let this confuse your hyphenation use when you’re using a multiword compound using and or or that doesn’t share terms.

        He tripped over the blue-and-white-striped shoe.

        We wouldn’t say a blue- and white-striped shoe or a blue-striped and white-striped shoe. Blue-and-white striped is a single multiword compound with elements that don’t share terms.

        If you don’t mind, to make sure that this makes sense, I’m going to have you tell me how to hyphenate your examples and why.

        • Jake Houck says:

          Hi, Beth. Here are my answers. My replies correspond with the explanations you gave (or “had given”? … Lol) above. I think that I’m now correct on all counts below (thanks to you)! Do you agree?

          “$50-to-$60-million-a-year business”
          ” fifty-to-sixty-million-dollar-a-year businesses”
          “five-foot-to-five-foot-ten-inch women”
          “$60-to-$70-per-month donations”
          “twenty-five-to-thirty-year-old men”
          “ten-to-fifteen-gallon containers”
          “5-to-10-inch apertures”

          “$20- and $30-million-a-year businesses”
          “twenty-five- and thirty-year-old men”
          “$60- or $70-per-month donations”

          “$20- and $30-million-a-year businesses” (Here $20- means twenty million.)
          “twenty- and thirty-million-dollar-a-year businesses”
          “$20- and $30-a-month service fees”  (Here $20- means twenty dollars, obviously.)
          “twenty-five- and thirty-year-old men”
          “$60- or $70-per-month donations”
          “sixty-five- or seventy-dollar-per-month donations”
          “five-foot- and five-foot-ten-inch women”

          Thank you!!!! I am so looking forward to your reply!!!

          • Jake Houck says:

            Oh, and methinks it would be:

            a blue-and-white-striped shoe
            a red-white-and-blue flag

          • Jake Houck says:

            I think that you’ll concur that all of my answers (with the money ranges above) are now punctuated correctly. :-)

          • I’ve been following this thread, and the minutia bandied back and forth has become unnecessarily pedantic. Beth has repeatedly pointed out that many of the examples from several posters could, and should, be rewritten to avoid overcomplicated battles with hyphens. Just my opinion.

          • Jake, I did only a quick check—they look good.

            But remember the possibility of exceptions in regard to to? I did find one. Consider the following:

            Ten-to-fifteen-minute traffic delays (This is an example from The Copyeditor’s Handbook.)

            That seems straightforward. This next example would be similar—

            The four-to-six-year-old houses. (The speaker doesn’t know the age of the houses.)

            Think approximation or guessing. These are single units, not two modifiers.

            But look at this example from the book How to Use Hyphens

            The fifth- to ninth-floor lights went out mysteriously

            They say that this means lights on the fifth through the ninth floors

            But this—

            The fifth-to-ninth-floor lights went out mysteriously

            —refers to lights that run from the fifth to the ninth floor. (Perhaps a unit of lights stretching from the fifth floor to the ninth.)


            The differences are hard to see, but I understand why they’re showing two options. So sometimes simply following a rule might not produce the best results.

            Your examples, depending on your intended meaning, might go either way.

            I’ve seen plenty of examples of using the suspended hyphen with to expressions. But when the words imply a unit, go with all hyphens.

  23. Denise Lasky says:

    Would really love your spin on the post above if you get a chance! Thanks so much! :-) :-)

    • Jake Houck says:

      Thanks for all of that!

      I’m just sticking with full hyphenation with “to,” and suspended hyphenation with “and” and “or.”


      • Jake Houck says:

        I will abandon this topic after my last comment on this.

        The fifth- to ninth-floor lights went out mysteriously

        They say that this means lights on the fifth through the ninth floors

        But this—

        The fifth-to-ninth-floor lights went out mysteriously

        —refers to lights that run from the fifth to the ninth floor. (Perhaps a unit of lights stretching from the fifth floor to the ninth.)
        To me, Beth, there is really no difference in meaning here. Could you tell me the author of that book on hyphens, please?

        Based on The Copyeditor’s Handbook and The Handbook of Good English, full hyphenation (as you call it) is the way to go here.

        Thank you so much!

        • Jake, the link I included for the book on hyphens will take you to a Google Books page with all the info on the book.

          See if these examples help—

          The first-to-third-grade classroom was on lockdown.

          This says that the classroom filled with students from the first grade through the third grade was on lockdown.

          This format could also be made plural—the first-to-third-grade classrooms were on lockdown—but even plural, this construction would refer to classrooms that each contain students from the first, second, and third grades.

          But look at this version—

          The first- to third-grade classrooms were on lockdown.

          This sentence, with the suspended hyphen, is different. This means that the first-grade, second-grade, and third-third classrooms—classrooms separated by grade—are on lockdown. This version could never be referring to a single classroom.

          A couple more examples—

          The floor-to-ceiling door was too high. (This one can be singular.)

          The floor-to-ceiling doors were too high. (Or it can be plural.)

          The third- to fifth-floor doors were all locked. (This can only be plural.)


          I hope these last examples highlight the differences between full hyphenation and the suspended hyphen when using the word to.

          Doing a bit of research on this helped me nail down the differences for myself, so thanks for the questions.

          • Jake Houck says:

            Thanks, Beth. I’m trying to understand this and don’t know why I’m being so dense. I will carefully study your examples to see if the penny drops (LOL). Thanks again!! :-)

          • Jake Houck says:

            Just for s—- and giggles, the AP replied and said no hyphens in these, but to repeat the word “million.”

            a $100 million to $120 million a year industry
            a $10 a month fee
            a multimillion dollar a year enterprise
            a 25 to 30 percent a year increase

            They said none of these phrases would benefit from the use of hyphens — suspended or otherwise.

            Go figure. :-)

          • AP follows rules different from CMOS rules. Rules different from other style guides too.

            I’m not sure why you need answers to these kinds of questions (are you studying for a copyrighting exam?), but do be aware that different style guides are set up for different kinds of writing. Novelists typically use CMOS and Hart’s (for BrE). News organizations typically use AP or the NY Times guide. Colleges may require students and faculty to use APA or MLA.

            Some publishing houses have their own style guides that trump any of these other guides.

            And writers, of course, sometimes have their own choices as well.

            While an answer might be right in one circumstance, it may not fit another. The key is in knowing there are multiple right answers, although circumstances might play a big role in your choice of right answer.

  24. Denise Lasky says:


    Would you support the diaereses in these?


    And so on, and so forth …

    Or do you prefer the hyphenated or solid compounds?

    reenactment or re-enactment
    deescalate or de-escalate

    Also: Would the words “reaudit(s),” “reaudited,”and “reauditing” be one word in all forms (i.e., in noun, verb, and adjectival forms)? Or should it be “re-audit(s),” “re-audited,” and “re-auditing”? What is your preference here?

    Thanks a mil!

    • Denise, unless you were using the mark to purposely point out the pronunciation of a word, don’t use it. In English, we don’t include other pronunciation aids, such as accent marks, and there’s no reason to use this. Exceptions for names if the person uses the mark and for words such as naive. Although naive without any extra marks is quite acceptable.

      The New Yorker uses the diaeresis consistently—The Curse of the Diaeresis—but for most other writing, you can safely ignore it.


      Use a current dictionary and CMOS to guide your hyphenation choices. My Oxford desktop dictionary shows re-elect and re-enact. Cooperate and coordinate are closed compounds, although the hyphenated versions are alternates. I’ll trust you to look up the other words in your favorite dictionary. (A reminder to others reading these comments that we’re looking at prefixes here.)

      Often we hyphenate between repeating letters, so de-escalate is a reasonable spelling. (And it’s listed that way in my desk dictionary.)

      As for re-audit, personally I’d probably hyphenate in all forms simply to head off any confusion. That string of vowels may create confusion in the reader.


      You mentioned verb forms, and that made me realize I hadn’t addressed compound verb forms in particular.

      Most compound verbs are usually closed or hyphenated (proofread, troubleshoot, window-shop). If you don’t find the compound verb in a dictionary or you’re making up the compound verb on the spot—I told you he stop-jammed the wad of paper between the door and the wall—hyphenate.

  25. Lou Sanders says:

    As an adjective before a noun, would “tour-de-force” get hyphens, as in “a tour-de-force performance”? I cannot find an answer to this anywhere.

    Thank you, Beth.

  26. Jake Houck says:

    Beth, I found this in the National Geographic Style Guide:

    “With more than one compound modifier, distinguish between several possibilities and an inclusive range”:   

    (1) Two- to three-day forecasts are now possible. (suspended hyphenation)
    (2)A two-to-three-day forecast would help him plan. (full hyphenation)
    (3) Snow will be in the 10-to-14-inch range. (full hyphenation)

    Really, what is the difference between (1) with the suspended hyphenation, and (2) with the full hyphenation?

    Thank you.

    • Jake, they’re differentiating between (#1) two separate possibilities and (#2) an inclusive range. (This is the same issue we looked at back in October.)

      Two-to-three-day is one inclusive modifier.

      Two- to three-day is actually two different modifiers being attached to the same noun. Remember that this use can never refer to a single noun.

      Look back at the example with the classrooms—

      The first-to-third-grade classroom was on lockdown. This classroom is inclusive. It contains children in the first, second, and third grades. There can be plural classrooms, but each would contain children of all three grades.

      Yet with this next construction—The first- to third-grade classrooms were on lockdown—we’re talking about separate classrooms. So classes not with combined grades but separate ones. We’re talking about all the classrooms in one sentence, but each classroom is a different grade.

      How about another one?

      Her one-to-two-inch thumbnail curled at the end. (Her nail is somewhere in the range of one to two inches long.)

      The four- to ten-penny nails were jumbled inside the same box, but all the larger ones were stored separately. (All the sizes of nails from four penny to ten penny were storied in the same box.)

      Does that help at all?

      • Jake Houck says:

        Last one. Promise!!!!

        Would these get hyphenated throughout, as shown below?

        a $10-to-$20-a-week deduction
        a $1-to-$5-a-day surcharge
        a $70-to-$90-per-month deduction
        a group of 5-to-10-year-old children
        a group of 5-to-10-year-olds

        • I’m going to put this one back on you—why would these get hyphenated throughout? What’s the rationale?

          • Jake Houck says:

            Because they’re inclusive ranges, thus no suspended hyphenation in any. They’re all correct as is, then, right?

            BTW, was I correct with the comma before “thus” above (instead of a semicolon)? Also, no comma after “thus”?

        • Jake Houck says:

          But Chicago uses “a group of ten- to twelve-year-olds” (with suspended hyphens). Very confusing, to say the least.

          What’s the difference between:

          a group of ten-to-twelve-year-old children
          a group of ten- to twelve-year-old children

          in this context?

          See why I’m confused? Lol.

  27. Jake Houck says:

    National Geographic also lists these two in their style guide—

    a 15-to-20-foot killer whale
    a 15-to-20-foot-long whale 

  28. Jake Houck says:

    Does the full hyphenation in “a 15-to-20-foot killer whale”
    and “a 15-to-20-foot-long whale” solely indicate a guess, an approximation of the length of the whale in question? 

    If so, what would these mean, then, with the suspended hyphens? —> a 15- to 20-foot killer whale” and “a 15- to 20-foot-long whale”

    • You wouldn’t use this format with the suspended hyphens for this kind of example. The suspended hyphen paired with to isn’t used for a singular noun. We’re not talking about a 15-foot killer whale and a 20-foot killer whale but one killer whale.

      That is, in earlier examples we were talking about two-day forecasts and three-day forecasts and first-grade, second-grade, and third-grade classrooms. We used the suspended hyphen so we didn’t have to repeat words.

  29. Jake Houck says:

    A two-to-three-day forecast would help him plan. (Does the full hyphenation throughout indicate a hypothesis, a guesstimation as to the length of the forecast that would help him?)

    Snow will be in the 10-to-14-inch range. (Again, “10-to-14-inch range,” I think, solely suggests and indicates a guess as to the expected quantity of precipitation, correct?

    Then what would the two examples below (with the suspended hyphens) be making reference to?

    Snow will be in the 10- to 14-inch range.
    A two- to three-day forecast would help him plan.

    Sorry to drive you bonkers.

  30. Jake Houck says:

    And, CMOS did reply to an email I sent months ago. They said the following form was correct, with full hyphenation throughout. They did, however, say to repeat the word “million.” Thought I’d share.

    a $15-million-to-$20-million-a-year industry
    a $25,000-to-$30,000-per-year position

  31. Jake Houck says:

    But Chicago did say that if “a year” or “per year” is not part of the modifier, no hyphens:

    a $10 million investment (not: a $10-million investment)

    a 10 percent increase (not: a 10-percent increase)

    But: “a 10-percent-a-year increase” and “a 10-to-20-percent-a-year increase” are both correct.

    Go figure… sure you’d agree to all. :-)

    Tricky, tricky stuff.

    • Jake, the rules do get complex. But they must have made sense to somebody at some time.

      We don’t use the hyphen with percent and a number—that’s on the second page of the CMOS chart. But we can’t not hyphenate part of a multiword compound if we hyphenate the rest (a-year). So a longer compound gets hyphenated all the way through. This is the same reason we hyphenate longer compounds that contain -ly adverbs. If it’s a two-word compound—highly unhappy customer—we don’t use a hyphen between the -ly adverb and the other word in the compound. But if the compound is made up of other words as well—the not-so-cleverly-phrased lie—we hyphenate the whole phrase that’s used as an adjective.

      As you said, tricky. But kind of fun.

    • I forgot to address the $10 million investment.

      We typically don’t hyphenate when a large round dollar amount follows a dollar sign (or other designation) and is written partially in figures, partially in words. We would hyphenate a ten-million-dollar investment.

      It wouldn’t be “wrong” to hyphenate $10 million investment; it’s just not necessary.

  32. Jake Houck says:

    I correspond via email with the University of Chicago Press quite frequently. If you want, I could share their responses by copying and pasting their replies. But I wouldn’t do it without your permission first.

    • I’d hate to “borrow” their information in full. If the topic comes up in a comment or article, feel free to share your knowledge. But I wouldn’t feel right about using their knowledge in any general way. Thanks for asking.

  33. Jake Houck says:

    The AP says that “town hall-style meeting” and “trench coat-weating sleuth” are both correct, with one hyphen each.

    To test the correctness of each phrase, I say to myself that it’s not a town meeting or a hall-style meeting. It’s a town-hall-style meeting, with two hyphens. The same with “trench coat-wearing sleuth.” It’s not a trench sleuth or a coat-wearing sleuth. It’s a trench-coat-wearing sleuth, again with two hyphens.

    Am I correct with the two hyphens for each phrase? Am I also correct with my method in determining the rationale for each decision?

    Thank you, Beth.

    • Jake, I’m thinking that must be a quirk of AP’s style or somebody merely made a mistake. But AP tries to use as few punctuation marks as possible, so maybe that’s some kind of rule of theirs.

      But Bryan Garner (in Garner’s Modern American Usage) points out that “when the first or last element in a phrasal adjective is part of a compound noun, it too needs to be hyphenated.” His examples include post-cold[-]war norms, smooth kidney[-]bean-colored complexion, game[-]show-spoofing cameos, and olive[-]oil-based dressing. (I used brackets to show where some writers have mistakenly omitted a hyphen.)

      Even CMOS shows a similar example in the chart: time-clock-punching employees.

      Yet note that with a proper noun as the compound, there’s no need for a hyphen. But if the proper noun is only part of the phrasal adjective, we typically use an en dash in place of the hyphen, just not between the words of the proper noun part of the compound. CMOS’s example is a Nobel Prizewinning chemist. Of course, you could always rewrite for clarity.

    • Jake, I found this in a question to Bill Walsh (style director at the Washington Post). It sounds like your question. (Maybe it is a reference to your question.)

      Q: Compound modifier

      I think I know where you’ll stand on this, Bill, but I feel the need for validation. An AP Stylebook “Ask the Editor” entry from a couple of days ago recommends “town hall-style meeting” over “town-hall-style meeting.” Seems totally illogical to me. And how about “town-hall meeting” vs. “town hall meeting”? (Not that I’m entirely sure what the difference is between a town-hall meeting and just a plain old meeting.)

      A: Bill Walsh

      Ugh. If you’re going to hyphenate the modifier, you have to hyphenate the whole modifier. With a three-word modifier, that means two hyphens, unless part of the modifier is a proper noun (a White House-style executive mansion).

      That holds true even if, like The Washington Post, you’re all like cazh and stuff about hyphens in general. I’d hyphenate “town-hall meeting” in my own writing, but at work it’s “town hall meeting.” Once “town hall” becomes part of a longer modifier, though, you have to do “town-hall-style meeting.”


      Here’s the link to Walsh’s post—Grammar Geekery with Bill Walsh. The question was posted on December 1.

      • Jake Houck says:

        Thanks!! AP promotes consistency with the written word, yet they are always contradicting themselves with answers in the Q&A. Actual posters comment and correct editor Dave Minthorn, and he thanks them. To me, their credibility has severely dwindled of late. Subscribers actually find legitimate discrepancies in their online stylebook. Shouldn’t the finished product be error-free? Where are their proofreaders prior to issuing the finished product? They make up their own ridiculous grammar and punctuation rules. At this point, it’s all about money. People are blinded by the AP’s often-erroneous guidance and stupid, idiosyncratic style. Egregious, to say the least.

        Thanks for sharing that.

        • Don’t expect any large book to be free of errors—it’s almost impossible. Even with proofreaders, mistakes can get by. And there is legitimate disagreement concerning some issues. Plus, what if no one who’s proofreading knows some obscure grammar rule whose misuse is later pointed out by a grammar savant?

          I don’t imagine that the AP is purposely trying to be confusing. Anyone who cares about grammar and punctuation is always trying to get it right. (And there may be disagreement within the AP too, so that not all answers jibe.)

          The takeaway is that it’s a good practice to check multiple sources. Yet if possible, I would stick to resources that deal with your particular area of interest or need. If you’re writing fiction, go with CMOS (and/or Hart’s). If you’re writing news reports, go with AP (and/or the New York Times Style Guide). If you’re in school and writing reports or essays, use what the instructor recommends (MLA or APA or something else).

          And when no sources agree, recognize that differences of opinion will always be around. Sometimes you simply must make a decision.

          • “I would stick to resources that deal with your particular area of interest or need.”

            This is the best advice to follow no matter what you’re doing: writing, playing golf, knitting, photographing seagulls …

            And as you say, Beth, “Sometimes you simply have to make a decision.”

            When there are too many conflicting opinions, make a decision. Go with what looks, and works, best within the context of what you’re trying to communicate. As my grandfather used to say, “Fire three warning shots into the back of their head.” In other words, don’t spend too much time seeking approval. Who knows, maybe you’ll set the style for all those who couldn’t decide.

  34. I’m not answering for Beth, but your “method in determining the rationale” was already covered in her original Cheat Sheet post using the example, “good-looking doctor.”

  35. Phil Huston says:

    Is there such a thing as “style license” for non-academic (is that correct?) use of language? Some of the junk MS suggests, MLA or CMS – they all have so many qualifiers for a “rule” it gets ridiculous.

    In dialogue for example. “She’s a good lookin’ babe.” or “She’s a good-lookin’ babe.” The easy way out is, “She’s an attractive babe.” If the character is already pre-disposed to raunchier language is he hyphenated raunchy or loose raunchy? Or does she need to be a good (maybe hyphen) lookin’ babe with a modifier (tall, tan, terrific, over dressed) to get a hyphen?

    My brain hurts.

  36. Phil Huston says:

    Even better, the CMOS folks have put their handy chart online so that everyone can access it.

    CMOS Hyphenation Table


    As an old product specialist I should know to RTFM

  37. Jake Houck says:

    Now I’ve got the attention of Mary Norris, chief editor at The New Yorker. She replied via email. Because this holds relevance to the topic at hand, I am posting it here.

    Basically, anything goes in this crazy world of punctuation. She said that every example below is correct, but The New Yorker prefers to spell out large numbers. Check it out below!

    New Yorker Style below:

    ~ a fifty-to-sixty-million-dollar-a-year business juggernaut (unified rather than suspended)

    ~ a ten-to-twenty-thousand-dollar-per-year expense (unified rather than suspended)

    ~ fifty-to-sixty-year-old men (unified rather than suspended)

    ~ ten-to-twelve-pound weight gain (unified rather than suspended)

    ~ affects twenty-five-to-thirty-, thirty-five-to-forty-, and forty-five-to-fifty-five-year-olds (suspended)

    Basically, anytime “to” is used, hyphenate on both sides of “to” as exampled above, she says.

    But if “and” or “or” is used, resort to suspended hyphenation. That certainly keeps everything quite simple. (See below.)

    ~ fifty-five- or sixty-five-year-old men

    ~ fifty-five- and sixty-five-year-old men

    ~ ten- or twelve-inch stems

    ~ ten- and twelve-inch stems

    ~ five- and ten-pound dumbbells

    ~ five- or ten-pound dumbbells

  38. Jake Houck says:

    Beth, Kirk Mahoney, PH.D., author of How To Use Hyphens also responded to me via email. See below!

    Dear Kirk,

    Really hoping you can help me. I am so very confused when it comes to using full hyphenation (with the word “to” in a range) vs. suspended hyphenation (with also the word “to” in a range).

    Are these punctuated correctly with the hyphens throughout (not suspended)?YES

    a $100-million-to-$150-million-a-year industry (correct as punctuated?)

    If the above is correct, can it be truncated to ” a $100-to-$150-million-a-year industry” by omitting the first “million” after $100–yes or no? NO, I would not recommend that.

    Or would $100 initially be construed as a hundred dollars? YES, it could be construed as a hundred dollars.

     Thus, repeat “million” twice, as shown in the very first example above?

    How about this one? Correct with full hyphenation throughout (as shown below)?

    a $50,000-to-$60,000-per-year savings … a $10-to-$20-a-month surcharge … a $1-to-$5-a-day service charge … (Good to all three?)

    YES, but you could simplify the first one to $50K-to-$60K-per-year savings.

    For a percentage range, are these below acceptable–and correct–with full hyphenation?

    a 10-percent-a-year increase (good?) YES
    a 10-to-20-percent-a-year increase (good?) YES
    a 10 percent increase (no hyphen in this one, correct?) NO, I’d write it as “a 10-percent increase” or as “a 10% increase”.

    5-to-10-year-old children OR 5- to 10-year-old children? and why? BOTH. As I explain in my book, “fifth to ninth-floor lights” is a mistake, the solution to which is “fifth- to ninth-floor lights”, given that “fifth-to-ninth-floor lights” refers to lights running from the fifth floor to the ninth floor as if to connect the floors. So, “5- to 10-year-old children” is a solution to the mistake “5 to 10-year-old children”. However, given that there is no possibility of confusion, “5-to-10-year-old children” is also a solution to that mistake.

    And which set is correct below (or are they both correct, but mean different things)? BOTH sets are correct for “containers” and “weight loss”. Unlike the “lights” example from my book, there is no possibility of confusion. HOWEVER, “6-to-12-inch snowfall” has the potential to make the reader think of the snow layer that spans the range of 6 inches to 12 inches, whereas “6- to 12-inch snowfall” suggests a range of possible snowfall. (See my discussion above or in the book about “fith-to-ninth-floor lights”.) FINALLY, I would hyphenate “weight loss” in each set, given that you’re using it as a concept that is getting modified. Otherwise, readers could stumble upon seeing “loss” — as in, “Wait, I thought that we were talking about 30-to-40-pound (or 30- to 40-pound) weights!”

    Full Hyphenation
    10-to-15-gallon containers
    30-to-40-pound weight loss
    6-to-12-inch snowfall

    Suspended Hyphenation
    10- to 15-gallon containers
    30- to 40-pound weight loss
    6- to 12-inch snowfall

    Thank you so very much!!!

    Have a great holiday season! Merry Christmas!

    Last question, Kirk. What is the difference in meaning in each pair below (full hyphenation vs. suspended hyphenation)? I don’t see a difference other than the number of characters to express the same concept. Imagine, though, if you were to delete the first hyphen in the second row of each set. Then you would be expressing something different. For example, you would have a surcharge that could be either $5-a-day or just a single fee of $1!

    a $10-to-$20-a-week deduction
    a $10- to $20-a-week deduction

    a $1-to-$5-a-day surcharge
    a $1- to $5-a-day surcharge

    a $70-to-$90-per-month deduction
    a $70- to $90-per-month deduction

    a group of 5-to-10-year-old children
    a group of 5- to 10-year-old children

    Thank you. By the way, one reason to use the second row instead of the first row in each set is typesetting. For example, if your word-processing software will not break “$70-to-$90-per-month” at one of the hyphens when “$70-to-$90-per-month” is at the end of a line, then it would be better to use “$70- to $90-per-month”, given that all word-processing software breaks to a new line at spaces.



  39. Jake Houck says:

    And now my monomaniacal obsession with hyphens has been assuaged! Lol.

    PS: The reason is that hyphens have always been my nemesis. Obviously. :-)

  40. Jake Houck says:

    Last installment from Kirk Mahoney, author of How To Use Hyphens. Your site, Beth, is going to be the go-to reference for definitive hyphen usage! LOL. :-)

    In their predicative positions, would you hyphenate the boldface words below–yes or no?

    The technology is state-of-the-art. Correct? Yes

    The new software is cutting-edge. Correct? Yes

    The test is multiple-choice. Correct? Yes

    The exam was fill-in-the-blank. Correct? Yes************

    And, in lieu of recasting, would you hyphenate as I did below?

    He applied for the assistant-store-manager-trainee position. Yes

    He likes his human-resources-related tasks.

    Good with 2 hyphens above? Yes

    But, if capped, one hyphen: 

    He likes his Human Resources-related tasks.

    Good with 1 hyphen? Yes, given that the capitalized words are self-tied to one another, although I also sometimes hyphenate capitalized phrases such as “Human Resources” when they are used like this.

    She likes chocolate-chip-cookie-dough ice cream. (Correctly hyphenated w/3 hyphens?) Yes

    chocolate-chip cookies and high-school student? Both get hyphenated? Yes

    The report is up-to-date. Hyphens after verb? Yes.

    He brought me up to date. No hyphens, because adverbial, correct? Yes

    She was in her mid-to-late 50s. Correct? Yes

    Temperatures are expected in the mid-to-upper 90s. Correct? Yes

    Temperatures are expected in the low to mid-40s. No hyphens (i.e., “low to mid 40s”). (Only 1 hyphen here? Or should it be: low-to-mid-40s. I say no, because in order to use 3 hyphens here, the phrase needs to modify a noun, as in “Temperatures are expected in the low-to-mid-40s range. Yes
    Lastly, hyphenate these height-and-weight measurements ? (Should “height-and-weight measurements” get hyphens YES, and should “a grammar-and-punctuation book” get hyphens? YES “a yes-or-no answer” YES and “a yes-or-no answer” YES get hyphens too? Correct to all?)

    a 5-foot-10-inch woman…good with 3 hyphens? YES

    an 11-pound-7-ounce newborn…good with 3 hyphens? YES

    an 11-pound-7½-ounce newborn…look good as well? YES

    And after a form of a to-be verb, should I hyphenate?

    She is five-four. Good w/hyphen? I would rewrite this, given that people who don’t use the English system of measurement might not understand.

    She is five-foot-ten. Good w/hyphens? I would rewrite this, given that people who don’t use the English system of measurement might not understand.

    She is five-feet-ten. Good w/hyphens? I would use “She is five feet ten inches tall.” instead.

    She is 5-foot-10. Good w/hyphens? I would rewrite this, given that people who don’t use the English system of measurement might not understand.

    a 15%-a-year increase (correct? acceptable?) Yes

    a 10%-to-15%-a-year increase (correct? should I use the % symbol in front of the first number?) Yes. But, you could delete the first % sign. Read it aloud with and without that first % sign, and you probably will agree that deleting the first % sign reads/sounds better.

    a 10-to-12%-a-year increase (good or bad to this?) Good. Given that a % sign follows a number, this is readable.

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