[LMB] another hyphenation dilemma

Lois McMaster Bujold lbujold at myinfmail.com
Sun Sep 27 21:13:05 BST 2015

[LMB] another hyphenation dilemma
John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Sun Sep 27 19:42:07 BST 2015

Lois: So...

in the frequently occurring form of

noun-nouned   or noun nouned  -- gray-haired, big-headed

when it is not followed by another noun it modifies, such as gray-haired

but rather, the lady was gray(-)haired, he was big(-)headed

hyphen or no?

John: Um, some confusion about parts of speech there -- these examples are
both compound adjectives, and should be hyphenated wherever they occur.
Grey-hairED and big-headED are always adjectival, irrespective of position,
so the big-headed lady was grey-haired, or the grey-haired lady was
big-headed. (And the only choice would be grey-haired or greyhaired,
big-headed or bigheaded ; neither grey haired not big headed should ever

The rule about hyphenation and pre- or post-position applies to compound
nouns, which may comprise two nouns (toilet brush) or adjective + noun
(twentieth century), and are presumptively *not* hyphenated when standing
as a compound noun *but* become so if acting as a preceding adjective. Thus

He had several hundred toilet brushes. This toilet-brush obsession ...

Smith lived in the twentieth century. A twentieth-century man, Smith ...

LMB:  Aha!  Thanks, John, that is very helpful.

Although gray seems like a noun to me... perhaps not.  Unless it's a horse.

Ta, L.

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