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I'm currently proof-reading my girlfriend's Ph.D. thesis (neither of us are native speakers) and I came across the following sentence snippet: "the switching-off induces eddy currents", and the word 'switching-off' struck me as odd.

I think it should be written without a hyphen; my reasoning is vague, but seems to hinge on the distinction I feel there is between 'the turning on' (i.e. 'the activating') and 'the turning-on' ('the causing of arousal').

A quick search in my Concise Oxford Dictionary hasn't given me any ideas, so my question is: What's the correct way of writing the gerund of compound verbs?

Any online resources going into this would also be much appreciated!

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I believe it should be written without the hyphen.

In the case of a noun + gerund, whether or not a hyphen is used depends on if the phrase is adjectival or if it is acting as a noun.

The company's decision making was met with criticism.

vs

Their decision-making process was not regulated well.

Since "switching-off" is used as a noun, it should instead be written as "switching off".

Source: Department of Justice

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Both comments have been equally useful, thanks! Looks like you can use the karma more, though, so I'll accept this one. –  yatima2975 May 16 '11 at 21:30

The style guide used by The Economist (quoted here) suggests that hyphenation be used to avoid ambiguities.

If "switching off" in a sentence introduces an ambiguity, it can't hurt to use it.

Here is an example with no ambiguity:

Switching off the light would be a good idea now.

Here is one with some ambiguity:

I think your switching off of the light would be a good idea now.

Most likely you are suggesting that someone turn the light off, but switching could conceivably mean something else not associated with the preposition following.

The meaning is clear with a hyphen:

I think your switching-off of the light would be a good idea now.

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This concept was also mentioned by the Department of Justice, so it seems to be a good rule of thumb. –  voithos May 12 '11 at 18:59

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