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What is the correct use of the term "related?" For example, should I use it like computer related, or is it more proper to use computer-related (where the word "computer" is just part of my example?)

Are the cases where it is used in one form and case in another form, or should it always be used in only one way?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

“Computer related” is a compound adjective and whether or not you should use a hyphen depends on where it is located in the sentence. If it appears before the word it modifies, include a hyphen. If after, omit the hyphen. This is mostly a clarification of Ex-user's answer. To use his/her examples, the following are both correct:

  1. This book is computer related. (the noun being modified appears before the compound adjective)
  2. This is a computer-related book. (the noun being modified appears after the compound adjective)

Use of hyphenated compound adjectives often prevents ambiguity of meaning (here's a good example), but when there can only be one meaning, hyphens may be omitted. I usually hyphenate anyway to be safe, and because it's one less thing to consider when writing. Additional usage information.

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Sorry for the belated follow up; very helpful, thanks. Especially the link to the example. –  MikeSchinkel Jan 30 '11 at 0:57

Hyphenation is tricky. There are two cases:

  1. This book is computer(*)related. (without a noun)

  2. This is a computer(*)related book. (before a noun)

I think most authorities would say that 2. should be hyphenated. However, in case 1. it's not quite so clear. The Chicago Manual of Style says it should be open (not have a hyphen), as in

  1. This book is computer related.

I believe this is the American style, whereas the British style is to add a hyphen regardless:

  1. This book is computer-related.

It also says "the first place to look is in the dictionary".

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I concur with this; it is indeed British practice to hyphenate in all cases. –  Noldorin Jan 22 '11 at 1:34
    
Interesting. I always thought that the same rules for "regular" adjectives applied as well to predicate adjectives, since—per my understanding, anyway—predicate adjectives are merely a means to rearrange word order. I think I'd have to prefer the British style for consistency's sake! –  LucasTizma Jan 25 '11 at 16:12
    
@Ex-user - Sorry for the belated follow up; very helpful, thanks. –  MikeSchinkel Jan 30 '11 at 0:56

It is more proper to use computer-related. You are using a hyphen to combine two words that act as a single modifier together.

However, I think both ways are acceptable, because I don't know an example where not using the hyphen with these words causes ambiguity.

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There is (usually) a rhyme and reason to the logic of English - if only you can figure it out.

So consider the difference between these sentences:

(a) This book is computer related.
(b) This is a computer-related book.
(c) This book is computer-related.
(d) This book is related to computers.
(e) This book relates to computers.

In (a) we have the origin of the adjectival expression where computer is a noun and related is arguably (part of) a verb (in past participle form, in a periphrastic verb construct we prefer in English to the simple present - compare (d) and (e)). On the other hand the PP "related" is arguably acting as an adjective, and computer as a modifier to that adjective. Thus (a) is a transition form between a verbal usage (like (d) and (e)) and an adjectival usage (as explicit in (b) and (c)). The form (c) is conventionally not used as it is not necessary to force it into an adjectival mode as the verbal mode of (a) suffices, and indeed is what originally licensed the compound adjective).

We should also consider the pragmatics, as in any given context usually one specific one of the above variants would be preferred and would seem more appropriate. I would however, very seldom use a form like (c), but consider - "this book is theoretical but computer-related", or "this book is theological but this one is computer-related" where the conjunction with an adjective forces the adjectival reading (given there is no existing single word adjective), and hence the compounding into an adjective. Also (d) is a little unlikely as "this book is about computers" is more likely, and "related" would be awkward as it is topics that are related not books, and the metonymy is lost here out of context. It is possible the book is not all about computers, but about a topic that relates to computers, so (d) or (e) could occur - e.g. if you are looking at psychology books, trying to find one that include an element of computational modelling - I think I would prefer (e) in this situation, or better still "this book makes the connection with computers".

When you get home and voluntarily show off what you bought is the time you might use (b). But if you were asked to explain the relevance of the books you bought you might use (a), as part of a list.

Short (but controversial) answer: (a) doesn't have an adjective.

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