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I'm not a native English speaker so I'm struggling to get this right.

I understand (and this question confirms) that compound adjectives such as well-organized, high-level, Spanish-speaking, etc, must have a hyphen. In particular, for us non-native speakers, it really helps to instantly, on-the-march disambiguate some sentences, to tell if, e.g., we are referring to a Spanish person that is speaking right now, or about any person who can speak Spanish.

However, I'm finding more and more cases were the hyphen is omitted in compound adjectives, such as this in Wikipedia.

The Cannone da 90/53 was an Italian designed cannon

I know that Wikipedia is hardly a writing style reference, but this is far from a rare case.

My question: is this a plain error or is the hyphen considered optional nowadays?

share|improve this question
Have you read this? – Tyler James Young Oct 2 '13 at 7:32
My impression is that you have a perfect grasp of proper hyphen use and should go boldly forth correcting Wikipedia as you see fit. – Tyler James Young Oct 2 '13 at 7:35
I hadn't found that particular article. Very helpful indeed. – LexLythius Oct 2 '13 at 7:45
And do notice the wise comments – Hellion's, I believe – in the square brackets: . . . [There are, of course, exceptions to this, as in "her reply was thought provoking."] 6.41: [contrary to its earlier positions,] The University of Chicago Press now takes the position that the hyphen may be omitted in all cases where there is little or no risk of ambiguity or hesitation.>> 'Rules' (1) are rarely universal (2) are subject to change (hopefully, for the better) – Edwin Ashworth Oct 2 '13 at 7:55
@mplungjan You could not live with that error either, did you :) (you saved me the trouble) – LexLythius Oct 2 '13 at 8:00
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Try not to think of this in terms of error, but in terms of what makes a text easier to read. That’s what punctuation is for. In your example, I don’t know what a ‘Cannone da 90/53’ is, so when I read it, the absence of the hyphen makes me wonder briefly if it’s an Italian. A hyphen linking Italian and designed would have removed that temporary ambiguity and thus made the sentence more effective.

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Thanks. BTW, 'Cannone da 90/53' is Italian standing for '90 mm, 53 calibers-length barrel cannon' – LexLythius Oct 2 '13 at 7:38
Good to know, but not something I think I'll have much use for in the foreseeable future. – Barrie England Oct 2 '13 at 7:40
:) Sure, it just happened to be the case I had at hand. In that context, it is relatively safe to assume that the reader has enough background about weapons to know that 'Cannone da 90/53' comes as a noun in the phrase. – LexLythius Oct 2 '13 at 7:43
I thought it might be a work by one of the Gabrieli boys. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 2 '13 at 7:46
@LexLythius: I'd claim that in English, punctuation is harnessed for improved clarity and breadth of expression rather than out of a misdirected nostalgia. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 2 '13 at 8:05

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