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Is it spelled well thought-out, or well-thought out, or well thought out?

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up vote 18 down vote accepted

It depends on how you use it... if it's preceding the word it modifies, then it should be hyphenated:

He paused for a bit, and then gave a well-thought-out answer.

However, if it follows the word it modifies, no hyphenation is necessary:

He paused for a bit, wanting to make sure his answer was well thought out.

(My source: Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition, sections 6.38–6.40)

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I would use well-thought-out if it would means something different from well thought-out; in the example sentence, well can only be applied to thought-out, not to answer. – kiamlaluno Feb 2 '11 at 5:15
I would argue that "well thought out" is the complete compound adjective, and as such, should be hyphenated (or unhyphenated, as the case may be) in its entirety. m-w.com/dictionary/thought-out agrees with me. :-) – Hellion Feb 2 '11 at 5:33
Style guides differ on whether adverbs in compound adjectives(?) require hyphens. Many of them recommend against hyphens for adverbs. – ShreevatsaR Feb 2 '11 at 8:50

That would be "well thought-out". See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/thought-out. Adding "well" before "thought-out" does not require a hyphen because well is an adverb.

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That link specifically lists "well-thought-out", with the extra hyphen, in its list of "entries found".... – Hellion Feb 2 '11 at 5:34
-1, I'm afraid. The link you provide directly contradicts the answer you offer. – Karl Jul 17 '12 at 6:41
Does clicking on "well-thought-out" bring up a proper entry if you have a subscription/activate the free trial? – nxx Sep 26 '13 at 9:51

Whether preceding or following a noun, the phrase is open per Chicago MOS 7.85, "When the adverb rather than the compound as a whole is modified by another adverb, the entire expression is open." Chicago's example: "a very much needed addition."

Therefore, in both constructions, "His plan was well thought out" and "It was a well thought out plan" the phrase would remain open.

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protected by tchrist Aug 13 '14 at 14:46

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