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I watched a clip a show shown on TruTV about a woman who was angry about not having been offered free cash for thirty days. According to the receptionist in the financial services place she was in, the sign she (the disgruntled customer) read meant that one can receive a loan free of interest within a 30-day span. However, the sign reads:

INTEREST LOANS
Bring a Friend to
American Jewelry and Loan
Get 30 days of interest free cash!

Notice the final line. There's no hyphen between "interest" and "free," so isn't the customer's misunderstanding valid? I'm assume that "interest" has to modify "free" in order to conjoin the words.

So, to remind you: When describing a loan that's free of interest (0% interest), is it "interest-free" or "interest free?" I'm assuming it's the former.

For the record, I have googled this, and I came up with mixed results. Some sites use "interest free" and others use "interest-free."

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I would say this is googleable and I would use a dash: books.google.com/ngrams/… - what is 30 days of interest? I would expect a comma if she wanted some interest in her person and free cash on top –  mplungjan Feb 26 '13 at 8:54
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Interestingly google shows the result as Interest Free but the page they got it from has it WITH the dash. One of the biggest British banks: natwest.com/global/glossary.ashx –  mplungjan Feb 26 '13 at 9:13
    
haha, So you see why I asked then. You'd think that there'd be a strict rule here. –  Mr_Spock Feb 26 '13 at 9:18
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@Mr_Spock The onus is on you to demonstrate that it is neither too specific (we really don't need a question about every sign that might or might not need a hyphen on it) nor a duplicate of the other question. You haven't done that. If you edit your question to satisfy that requirement, it could easily be unduped. –  KitFox Feb 26 '13 at 13:40
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We hyphenate "interest-free" in phrases such as "interest-free loans" at my magazine, but we don't hyphenate "interest free" in phrases such as "loans that are interest free." However, hyphenation of this type raises complicated issues and often involves arbitrary and idiosyncratic rules (and much confusion among writers). One issue is whether the phrase is so common that the intended audience will instantly recognize it; if so, the hyphen serves no useful function. For that reason, we don't hyphenate "word processing" in the phrase "word processing program" at my computer magazine. –  Sven Yargs Feb 26 '13 at 22:55
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marked as duplicate by tchrist, KitFox Feb 26 '13 at 12:39

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1 Answer

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Yes, normally a compound adjective would be formed by using a hyphen [this is the “11-year-old boy rule”].

However, if the term is actually “free cash” then two questions arise:

  1. What is the word interest doing there?
  2. What is free cash anyway?

If you get free cash for a period, implying that you have to pay it back, then it is free of interest. If it’s simply free cash, handed out willy-nilly, then the word interest makes no sense.

So: yes, strictly it’s wrong and there should be a hyphen. Realistically, it makes no difference.

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