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For example, "file system" and "related". Is it "file system-related"? It will appear as if it is a compound of "file" and "system-related", won't it?

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This question may be relevant: english.stackexchange.com/questions/2908/… – Cerberus Jan 22 '11 at 0:55
up vote 13 down vote accepted

This is a very good question and is one that troubled me for a long time.

Here is what the Fowler brothers say in their Kings English:

TEXT 1: Within the last ten days two Anglo-South Americans have been in my office arranging for passages to New Zealand.—Times.

SUGGESTION 1: Anglo-South-Americans is the best that can be done. What is really wanted is Anglo-SouthAmericans, to show that South goes more closely with America. But it is too hopelessly contrary to usage at present.

TEXT 2: The proceeds of the recent London-New York loan.—Times.

SUGGESTION 2: London and New-York loan.

TEXT 3: A good, generous, King Mark-like sort of man.—Times.

SUGGESTION 3: King-Mark-like, in default of KingMark-like. But the addition of -like to compound names should be avoided.

TEXT 4: The Fugitive Slave-law in America before the rebellion.—H. Sidgwick.

SUGGESTION 4: Fugitive-Slave law

In answer to your question, based on Fowler's advice (which I find practical and logical), I would write filesystem-related or file-system-related, e.g., 'Please remember that this is a filesystem-related job.'

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+1 for filesystem-related, since "filesystem" is commonly a single word in computer contexts. – psmears Jan 16 '11 at 12:38
Personally, I find all of the above "King's English" suggestions horrible, and #4 should rather suggest no hyphen at all. – erich Feb 12 '15 at 23:41

You're looking at a compound compound modifier.

Generally, a compound modifier (a two-word phrase that is used as an adjective) is hyphenated when it appears before the noun it is modifying:

  • The brick-oven pizza was cooked in a brick oven.
  • Love is a two-way street.

The hyphen is there to prevent confusion on which words are being modified. There may be more important reasons, but this is the more-important reason.

Each of the components of a compound adjective can itself be a compound word. It is common in this case to use an "en dash" to keep things well organized:

  • I plan to open a brick-oven–pizza restaurant.
  • All file-system–related software has to be cleared by IT.
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It's unnecessary-to-wrong to hyphenate 'more important' even when used attributively. See eg the NG Style Manual (2b), but there are even more authoritative sources who say this. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 8 '14 at 11:06
@Edwin Ashworth: I think that if the writer means to say "There are additional reasons that are (also) important," the better way to express this in short form is to omit the hyphen from the sentence: "There are more important reasons." But if the writer means to say "There are reasons more important than the ones heretofore identified," the better way is to add the hyphen to the sentence: "There are more-important reasons." CMOS, 15th ed., 7.85, and Oxford Style Manual, 5.10.1, seem to endorse this distinction. But you're right about "more important reason," which can't be misread. – Sven Yargs Oct 11 '14 at 4:27
@Sven: Yes; I'll moderate 'unnecessary-to-wrong' to 'often, arguably always, unnecessary'. Wikipedia has: '... However, if the compound is a familiar one, it is usually unhyphenated. For example, at least one style guide prefers the construction high school students, to high-school students.[8] Although the expression is technically ambiguous ("students of a high school"/"school students who are high"), it would normally be formulated differently if other than the first meaning were intended.... – Edwin Ashworth Oct 11 '14 at 7:44
And 'However, if [an adjective-modifier] can also function as [a quantifier], then a hyphen may be or should be used for clarity, depending on the style guide. For example, the phrase more-important reasons (reasons that are more important) [may be] distinguished from more important reasons (additional important reasons), where more is [a quantifier].' [Parts of speech adjusted / corrected.] In a Google search for "more important reasons", both of the above usages (and one or two others) appear in profusion. Though sometimes the ambiguity is technically possible, hyphens are extremely rare. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 11 '14 at 7:54

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